Speaking of Jane Austen, the new Village Voice reports on a small dating service called Austen's Janes Agency that sets men up with platonic dates. For a price.

We are a small boutique agency compiled of college educated, business orientated, attractive and articulate women. Austen's Janes Agency provides men with a companion for business events, parties, black-tie affairs, dinners, shows or simply an evening out. Being well traveled and passionate for adventure makes our girls the perfect companion for an interesting and exuberant evening. Our agency is not an adult service - but a way for sophisticated men to be accompanied by an intelligent and attractive woman of class.

AsThe Village Voice puts it, "For $60 an hour, the agency arranges for a smart young woman to accompany you, laugh at your jokes, and make you feel interesting and special. It may sound like just another escort service-with additional sex services available by negotiation-but it's not." In the Champagne Room that is Austen's Janes, hanky-panky is categorically forbidden, and as their site says, "a girl" may end a date if her suitor gets out of hand.

The girls in question are the site's three founders, 26-year-old friends who started the business, initially, as a joke. All unemployed, they decided they "might as well get paid" for the spate of bad dates they'd been going on, and posted a Craig's List ad as a goof. Since then, business has been brisk, and the women have been on a combined 35 dates, mostly with guys who are apparently on the level, many of them divorced, separated, or lonely. Clients can see the women's pictures and brief profiles on their website before choosing one. All dates must meet in public places. Most are dinner -and-movie affairs, but a few are, naturally, odd: one guy wanted to take his date for a pedicure; another felt paying for a date satisfied his need for an affair.

So, is it problematic? One of the founders, Julie, puts it like this to the Voice:

It is similar to a strip club, [in which] a man pays for, as Chris Rock reminds us, 'nothing,' but they get a beautiful woman to pay attention to them and act as if they are the center of the world when they need the attention...Women are often objectified in regular life-now we are finally getting paid for it without contracting any life-threatening diseases!"

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It's the old choose-your-choices debate. Are the women being objectified? Sure. Are they in the business of fulfilling fantasies? Yup. is it their choice? You betcha (*wink.*) Some could argue that the withholding of sex is as problematic as a more straightforward sexual transaction, playing as it does into male notions of chastity and old-fashioned sexual politics. But certainly no one's questioning their right to do it - and obviously there's a market. One hopes none of the men who pay for the service have seen Can't Buy Me Love, Failure to Launch or any of the host of girlfriend-for-hire fantasies out there - or that they haven't watched too much Dollhouse. Because whether most of us could deal with the naked loneliness of the clients is another issue entirely.

See Dick Pay Jane: Chaste Dating for Cash [Village Voice]