When John Calley asked me to read Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, The Jane Austen Book Club, I was at work on an original screenplay about a dysfunctional family of Jane Austen scholars, which I planned to direct for Sony Pictures. I had spent years immersed in Austenalia, not only reading Austen’s novels repeatedly, but also absorbing her letters and juvenilia, and making my way through various academic treatises which explored Austen’s life and work from every imaginable angle. I joked to my Sony executive that I was on the way to making the only light Hollywood comedy ever to need a bibliography appended to the credits. However, in reading The Jane Austen Book Club, I found myself no longer in the company of sparring intellectuals. Here were ordinary people more like me; readers, seeking shelter and companionship in books. That contemporary readers have found refuge in Jane Austen’s well-ordered novels isn’t surprising, given what we’re seeking shelter from—congested traffic, ringing cell phones, squealing security wands, waiting rooms with blaring televisions. Recently I noticed that four of Austen’s six novels were for sale at the newsstand at the Seattle airport. Spend a couple of hours trapped in a terminal waiting for a flight that’s been delayed, and you’ll be only too happy to withdraw into a semi-rural English village, two centuries in the past. When you begin to love Austen, her world doesn’t seem that antiquated. Her characters worry about money, deal with embarrassing family members, cringe at social slights, and spend more time than they should hoping to fall in love, even when the local prospects don’t seem that promising. In short, her people are just like us—but without the commute and the twelve-to-fourteen hour workday.
Also, there’s a video at Hollywood.com with several of the actors in the film: Jimmy Smits, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, and Hugh Dancy (if you’re interested in hearing his real accent).