A few months ago, I reviewed a most enjoyable young adult novel for the Historical Novel Society: Jane Austen Stole my Boyfriend
by Cora Harrison, published by Pan Macmillan. It is a lively story, based loosely on fifteen-year-old Jane Austen’s visit to her Leigh-Perrot relations in Bath in 1791, and tells of Jane and her seventeen-year old cousin Jenny’s adventures there, as seen through Jenny’s diary.
Jenny is an orphan and, except when invited to stay with the Austens, lives with her brother Edward-John, a meek man who is hen-pecked by his mean-minded wife, Augusta. When handsome Captain Thomas Williams falls in love with Jenny and asks for her hand in marriage, Augusta bullies her husband into forbidding it. Distraught, Jenny confides in her cousin.
Jane, meanwhile, has her own love life to consider. She has met Newton Wallop, heir to an earldom, and she rather fancies being a countess. But of course she will help Jenny. She enlists the aid of Harry Digweed, a young man she’s known all her life. Jenny realizes that Harry is in love with Jane – but does Jane return his affection?
What I enjoyed about this book is that Cora Harrison has plainly done her research – but deploys it with a light touch. Jenny’s diary is interspersed with Jane’s witty observations – based heavily on her Juvenilia. The girls are involved in various real life episodes, like Mrs Leigh-Perrot’s arrest on a charge of shop-lifting and her subsequent trial.
Late eighteenth-century Bath, with its splendid Assembly Rooms, the fashionable shops, the Pump Room and so on, are all there. I loved Jane’s barbed pen depictions of various acquaintances and relations, many of whom who will later reappear, transformed, in her adult novels. The moralizing Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, for example, surely owes much to Jane’s cousin, Philadelphia Walter.
My one complaint is that the book’s title has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. In fact, I must confess that when I saw the cover, my heart sank. It looked as though it was going to be a silly piece of cod Regency chick-lit, with 21st century girls in fancy dress. Thankfully, I was wrong.
By the time this is posted, I shall be in Somerset. I hope you all have a great summer.
Labels: Cora Harrison, Elizabeth Hawksley, Jane Austen