I love Jane Austen, and I enjoy Austen-themed fiction. When I heard about Austenland, I immediately became interested. Darcy-obsessed woman goes to an Austen theme park? Sign me up! I heard the movie was terrible, but the plot intrigued me, so recently, I picked up Austenland, by Shannon Hale. I had mixed feelings while reading this book, and may not pick it up again, but the story did hit home some very good lessons. This is a piece of chick lit, and the author probably didn’t intend for any deep lessons to be gleaned from it. Even so, Austenland demonstrated to me that pornography goes against a natural desire of human beings.
This story follows Jane Hayes, a woman who has been through a multitude of boyfriends and bad relationships. None of the men met her standard for manly perfection: Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth (particularly when he's sopping wet). Oh, Jane tries to hide her obsession, even to the point of concealing her copy of the mini-series in a plant. Still, an aging relative discovers Jane's obsession (and desire for love), and when said relative dies, she unexpectedly leaves Jane a gift in her will: an all-expenses paid trip to Austenland. Jane curiously tries to find information on Austenland, but discovers that guests sign a confidentiality waiver, so there's not much information available-not even the location! But, the trip is already paid for, so she travels to Austenland, where she relinquishes her modern clothes and identity to become Miss Jane Erstwhile. Jane figures that she'll throw herself wholeheartedly into the fantasy, get it out of her system, and then go back to New York to live a hum drum life.
In Austenland, a few female guests are put into the Experience, where costumed actors and the guests all assume the roles, activities, rules, and conversations of Regency England. Of course, this Experience also includes romance. In one or two conversations of the book, characters reveal that many women—married and unmarried—go to Austenland to live in a fantasy for a few weeks. The male actors flirt with them or actually initiate relationships that are played out during the course of the Experience. Even though Jane realizes that this is all fake, she still feels hurt when another guest is the object of a man’s attentions.
“Jane grinned for Lizzy Charming through dinner. It was clear that forgoing the car and Florence was paying off. Then sometime around dessert, Jane felt a tick bite of jealousy. She scratched it away. It flared again, though this time it morphed into self-pity, but of the low-key, ladylike variety. The problem was that nagging, life-long question—What was the matter with her? Was she that unattractive? She’d never been really in love without having her heart mashed. And now, because she wasn’t their typical client, would she be denied even fake love?”
At times, Jane wants to soak up the romance, even if it’s not real. She has been so hurt and deeply affected by all of her broken relationships that she just wants some cheap love, even if it only will last a couple weeks. However, while Jane wants this cheap love, another part of her sees that she is made for more. She sees that what she really desires is reality, and she doesn’t want to live in a fantasy place, kissing actors who are paid to do so.
“But even as her heart pounded, she felt a sense of loss, sand so fine she couldn't keep it from pouring through her fingers. Mr. Nobley was perfect, but he was just a game. It all was. Even Martin's meaningless kisses were preferable to the phony perfection. She was craving anything real--bad smells and stupid men, missed trains and tedious jobs. But she remembered that mixed up in the ugly parts of reality were also those true moments of grace--peaches in September, honest laughter, perfect light. Real men."Throughout the book, Jane swings between these two ideas: being swept up in the fantasy, or living for what is real. This is how the book really spoke to me about pornography, even though the author doesn’t mention pornography once. Women go to Austenland to escape from their husbands, jobs, or glum lives. They know that it is a fantasy and that the romantic relationships they develop are fake—but they have a longing for something greater than themselves, and they try to fill that gap of longing with imaginary love. They kiss and cuddle with paid actors, trying to ignore the fact that this relationship is part of the man’s daily job. In the end, though, these actors and guests don't experience deep and lasting fulfillment. Instead, the women just thirst for more imitation love, and the actors continue their job.
When men or women view or read pornography, they are trying to fill themselves with a fantasy, throwing themselves into a false, cheap sense of love. Pornography takes sexual intimacy and pleasure out of its proper context—the marital relationship of a man and woman—and objectifies it, turning it into something that can be purchased or sold. Just as the actors in Austenland see the romance as a job, many porn actors see their work as a job, and not as a real romance or relationship with their customers. I’ve read accounts of people who have worked in the porn or stripping industry, like in If Only I Could Sleep, by Stephanie Henry, or Delivered, by Matt Fradd. So many of the people who are exploited do not want to be doing that line of work, and lie to themselves and their customers as they try to make money and provide for themselves or their families.
Do not choose to live in the lie and fantasy of pornography—choose authentic love in real relationships with real people. The desire for reality isn’t some strange notion that a moralist conjured up out of nowhere; it is a natural desire of the human heart. In Austenland, Jane Hayes helps us see that we will not be fulfilled by living in a fantasy realm of false romance and intimacy. She shows us that we have a longing for what is real. The question is, will we pursue it?
Whether or not you struggle with pornography, it is so important to learn about the effects of pornography and the resources out there, so that we can share the truth with others! So, here are a couple of nifty websites that you can check out: