The Jane Austen Book Club

[Readings] (03.23.09, 12:11 am)

An important thing to note about this is that The Jane Austen Book Club was originally published as a book, and only recently was made into a film. Both book and film were released to a great deal of popularity. According to Wikipedia, the film departs significantly from the actual novel, though. This situation seems to be the case in all adaptations, however. The novel itself is arranged into six chapters, each focusing on one of the characters in the story, and correspondingly on one of Austen’s books.

One of the focus points of the story is an interesting turnabout regarding Jane Austen. Instead of the focus being on the characters, it is really about the readers. The process of reading and interpretation on the part of the readers themselves. This is explained in a good New York Times article.


Opening focuses on urban Californian landscape. We see a panorama of population with cell phones, cars, computers, shouting and full of confusion. This appears to be an expression of all the things that make the modern age different from Jane Austen’s world. There seems to actually be quite a lot with people’s interaction with and frustration with technology.

The opening gives various shots of the characters in their various lives, giving a very brief glimpse of each one of them. After the montage, we have segments focusing on the characters in more detail.

The characters first meet up at a funeral for someone (who is revealed to be a dog). An early interaction is between one of the characters (Allegra; who happens to be gay) and her father, who emphasizes the need for human connections, which suggests a connection to the pressure of marriage. (Hinting perhaps at ways in which Austen’s world is closer to ours).

There is an encounter between Prudie and her husband Dean, which reveals his  disinterest in her. She is a French teacher and has been awaiting a trip to France with her husband (who would be travelling as part of a business trip). She encounters him in a bar wherin he explains that the trip is off due to his business circumstances. The encounter is shot with his gaze fixed not on her, but on a television screen.

Sylvia later has dinner with her husband Daniel, where he explains that he has been having an affair and that he sees their marriage as ending. He explains that his relationship with the woman, with whom he is having the affair, is non negotiable, and that he won’t give her up. This encounter takes place around his car, and is met with general fumbling with the lock on the car door.

The next scene features some of the characters outside of a movie theatre going to a screening of Mansfield Park. While they are waiting Bernadette begins to have an argument with Prudie (the two have not met). Prudie’s being upset can be traced to her frustration with her husband, but their talking is quickly hashed out by describing the characters in the film. Prudie is upset about the filmic interpretation, and Bernadette jokes that “A little Jane Austen is better than none at all.” The two leave and meet up, Bernadette invites Prudie to the hypothetical book club.

There is a conversation between Sylvia, Allegra, and Jocelyn about the divorce. Jocelyn professes that one can get by without love, Allegra attempts to poses more optimistic and open ended ideas. This frames right away varying different approaches to life and love that are expressed by the characters literary analogues.

Jocelyn meets Grigg while he is attending a science fiction convention. They talk about books, and she invites him (off camera) to the book club.

The first meeting takes place at a starbucks, but begins with some conflicts between the characters. Most significantly occurs between Prudie and Allegra, who start off at each other’s throats. Some of this occurs via disagreements between interpretations, but generally falls into Prudie being oddly upset about things and repeatedly threatening to leave. When Grigg arrives, he seems a confused presence, because of his total lack of familiarity with the books and general silliness.


We see a few scenes with the characters on their own. We see Prudie ogling one of the students in the school that she teaches as he makes out with another student. Sylvia runs into her husband again, and then Sylvia and Jocelyn later discuss the book club meeting on the phone.

The connection to Emma occurs via Jocelyn, who is the emphasis of this section. Jocelyn breeds dogs, and also has been attempting to set Grigg up with Sylvia.

The discussion features the different interpretations of the characters on the novel. Allegra criticizes the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, remarking that it is more understandable that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are more in love because they behave badly. Prudie explains that subdued control over romance is more distinguishing of love in Austen’s novels. It is this kind of discussion about moral battleground using the book characters as testing grounds, not for the course of conduct, but for the actual interpretations in the novels. Grigg observes that Knightley only scolds Emma, the woman he loves, and Prudie remarks that men can do whatever they want to the women they love. This is a clear reference to her own relationship. Jocelyn quickly challenges this interpretation. This enables her to make an indirect statement about Prudie’s relationship to her husband without mentioning or even being aware of it directly. There is quite a lot of that.

Mansfield Park

This section has a significant variation from the novel, as Sylvia takes on Mansfield Park in the film, but it is really covered by Prudie in the book.

Prudie’s husband leaves for Detroit and she asks her mother (a somewhat scatterbrained pot smoker; Allegra might remind Prudie of her) to pick her up later. This does not happen, and Prudie is approached by the high school student (who she has been ogling since the beginning of the movie) asks her to help him practice his lines for the play. It is important to note that Mansfield Park involves a play taking place and the protagonists falling in love through first the play acting. The practice that Prudie has with the student swiftly moves into flirting.

Grigg is asked by Jocelyn to take Sylvia out to lunch, but also asks about Allegra. Grigg is confused by this, and thinks that she is trying to set him up with Allegra, and he asks his sister if this is some kind of test.

Sylvia in private discussion with Jocelyn explains that her interpretation of Emma is that the success of a marriage is dependent on its weakest partner, and that her problem has been that Daniel is just that. Daniel is a “wobbler”, like many of the characters in Mansfield Park, whereas Fanny Price is the stable rock of the family.

In discussion, Prudie explains that her interpretation is about the long suffering daughter (who is Fanny Price). The discussion is about how the characters like Fanny Price, as she is solid, but not willing to accept fault in others. The discussion culminates in Sylvia getting upset about her husband (voiced through Fanny Price’s betrayal). After each of the meetings, there is a post-scene where some of the characters depart, and the other charactes talk about the departing ones.

Northanger Abbey

Grigg and Jocelyn go out furniture shopping, and while Grigg tries to inspire some emotion in Jocelyn, she encourages him to take Sylvia for dates. He asks about Persuasion, and Jocelyn immediately launches into an animate explanation of some of the plot. Later on, he takes Jocelyn out to a used book store, and shows her some books and gives a recollection of his childhood and relationships and experiences with science fiction books.

There is an encounter between Sylvia and Daniel. He comes by and attempts to mow the lawn and offers to fix some of the things in the house. He seems to be somewhat needy and discheveled. We see Trey and Prudie as he comes onto her and she relates some of the psychological abuses put upon her by her mother.

The party arrives at Grigg’s apartment, to be assaulted by a bunch of remote operated haunted house props. This is somewhat distressing to the women, but they see it as a reference and joke regarding Northanger Abbey’s gothic references. When they move on from there, Grigg explains that he read the Mysteries of Udolpho. Grigg sees Northanger Abbey as a novel about novels, and connects it with several of the anxieties of writing. There is less discussion of interpretations, but there is confusion over the romantic drama as Jocelyn finds herself jealous of Grigg’s interactions with Sylvia.

Pride and Prejudice

We find out that Prudie’s mother died, which is a moment of tension. After the funeral Prudie flips out at Dean due to her perception of his flirting with one another person at the funeral. The sequence is shot to portray a wall between them. He explains that the highschool drama is over, which she rejects.

Grigg does make a lunch date with Sylvia, and they discuss Jocelyn. This is done via Pride and Prejudice. Sylvia asserts courtship is easy; Grigg disagrees. We see a sequence of other scenes discussing mistaken identities and other conflicts.

This winds up finally at a library fundraiser (much like a ball) where the other characters are present. Here the conflicts between the characters are less spoken of through the books, and more are allusions to them. They do discuss the books, but use them in much more direct analogy to their own lives. The interactions become more dramatically conflicted, and raise to a head with a direct confrontation between Jocelyn and Grigg. Later there is some active speculation about what happens to the characters outside and after the novels.

Sense and Sensibility

Prudie leave a note with her high school lover (but this is left vaguely). Allegra falls in an accident while mountain climbing, and Sylvia and Daniel discuss their marriage while Allegra is unconscious. The book club convenes over Allegra’s hospital bed. The discussion focuses on how the characters wind up matched up. The characters discuss the characters in the book, and their discussion is much more directly in reference to their own lives and relationships.


The party convenes at a beach. Daniel comes by and asks if he can join, citing that Persuasion is about mistakes and second chances. We see Prudie go to visit a motel where she sees her high school lover, but is startled by a walk light which she sees to read “What would Jane do”. She then leaves and does not shack up. Grigg brings his sister to the book club. Allegra brings her doctor to the club as well.

In a dramatic scene, Prudie returns to her worthless husband and asks him to read Persuasion. He pretty strongly refuses. Prudie presses and presses, and finally begins reading to him. Finally, in a later scene, we see him reading to her.

The ending features a montage of the characters having come to their resolutions, which are generally all positive and reconciled. Jocelyn finally reads Ursula Le Guin, Daniel leaves a note to Sylvia who finally calls him. Dean and Prudie reconcile after he finishes Persuasion (having stayed up the night to read it).


The characters meet up at another library dinner the next year, where all of the characters have joined the book club, and everyone is happy.

Reading Info:
TitleJane Austen Book Club
ContextCaptures some of the culture surrounding Jane Austen
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials, fan culture
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.