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Loveuary and Jane Austen: An American in Austen

Welcome to the third post of JASP's blog series, Loveuary and Jane Austen. This month, we are reviewing Hallmark's four Austen-inspired releases.


"Cousin" Harriet (Eliza Bennett), poses with the five Bennet sisters on the front steps of Longbourn.


 

Greetings, Janeites!


The flowers are budding, the temperatures are rising... it is difficult to believe it is still the month of February. Spring may be upon us at last! Despite the sunshine this past weekend, I was anxious to see how the Hallmark Channel re-envisioned Jane Austen's "darling child", so I grabbed my pen and journal and turned on An American in Austen. For readers who haven't yet viewed the film, let's start with a bit of a synopsis, shall we?


Synopsis


“Harriet, who thinks that no real man compares to Mr. Darcy, is transported into Pride and Prejudice and gets an unexpected chance to find out," Hallmark writes. Harriet is portrayed by British actress Eliza Bennett, who, incidentally enough, was named for the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet. How perfect is that?


A writer and librarian, Harriet has always dreamt of Mr. Darcy coming to sweep her off her feet. This is a very endearing quality, for who hasn't dreamt of Mr. Darcy? (I am certainly guilty as charged!) But Harriet receives a proposal from her boyfriend instead. He, despite being sweet, is no Regency hero. After replying with “maybe”, a distressed Harriet wishes on a shooting star for– you guessed it– Mr. Darcy himself. Little does she know her wish will come true. But, as we all come to find out, the journey to a happy ending doesn't always end up as we might expect.


First Impressions & Overall Thoughts


Welcomed at Longbourn as American "Cousin Harriet", Harriet first thinks her time travel to 1800s England is a game set up by her boyfriend and coworkers. Her repeated attempts at gaining information from the Bennet family leads them to pass off her comments as the ramblings of an addled mind, disquieted by many months of sea travel.


At first, Harriet desires to change the novel's plot, experimenting with small suggestions, like a carriage ride when Jane visits Caroline Bingley and Elizabeth follows, among others. As time progresses, however, Harriet begins to realize that her alterations could have disastrous results.


When the Bennet sisters visit Meryton one morning, Harriet believes she sees her boyfriend, Ethan, but unfortunately, it is not him. Before parting ways, Harriet asks the stranger for the year, and he replies that it is 1813. And in that moment, hapless Harriet realizes “this isn’t a game; I’m stuck in Pride and Prejudice.”


While Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, Jane Austen began work on the project, originally titled First Impressions, in October of 1796, at age twenty. She completed the draft the following year in August of 1797. Thus, rather than take place during the Regency, the novel actually takes place in the late 1790s, when Jane herself was around the age of the Bennet sisters. In the film, however, there is quite the conglomeration of waistlines, ranging from the lower, Georgian-style, to the Empire waist now synonymous with the Regency.


Wickham enters the Bennet sisters' lives with a musical fanfare. And rather out of character, Mr. Darcy ignores him and instead plagiarizes Byron to express his ardent love... but to whom? In his declaration he recites the poem "She Walks In Beauty", claiming it as his own, but Harriet quickly spots the falsification. The poem, published in 1815, was written by Lord Byron. An American in Austen, however, takes place in 1813, the year Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice.


As the plot of the beloved novel unfolds, Harriet makes decisions based not only on her own feelings and desires, but decisions to ensure the security and future of Pride and Prejudice. For all of us who love Austen's novels so much, would we act the same way? Could we resist the urge to change details in order to "make" everything perfect?


Towards the end of the film, Harriet remarks,“I’ve spent my whole life escaping into stories because I’ve just been too afraid to be myself in this one." While stories should never replace the real world, they do provide us with welcome distractions from our busy lives. There is such joy that comes with escaping into fiction, and as book lovers, this is a fact we all know first-hand, especially when it comes to the incredible work of Jane Austen.


Extras


By now, I'm sure you all have noticed how much I enjoy historical facts and intriguing snippets. And as always, this post would not be complete without a few additions.


When Harriet accompanies Elizabeth to Netherfield in order to tend to an ailing Jane, she finds herself in the library. During her perusal of the shelves, she notices a copy of Fanny Burney's Evelina. (The full title being Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World.) First published in 1778– when Jane Austen was only three– it is the epitome of the sentimental novel. We know Austen read Burney's work, and it was the writing of Fanny Burney and her contemporaries, such as Maria Edgeworth and Samuel Richardson, that directly influenced Austen's early work. The dramatic events and plot similarities of Austen's Juvenilia and Evelina are striking. And keeping up with the story's thread of sentimentality, Harriet is later gifted the book by an admiring eye.


A new character, the Duchess, who appears at the Netherfield Ball, is actually none other than Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. She is not only an author and ardent fan of Hallmark movies, but she is also the producer of the film.


One of the dances performed at the Netherfield Ball is "Upon A Summer's Day", another JASP dance staple. As soon as the music began I found myself transported back to Chapel Hill this past summer, practicing the steps. Dance instructions, should you desire a bit of healthy exertion (just enough to get the glow back in your cheeks), can be found below.


 

 

And that's a wrap! If this blog piqued your interest in the film but you missed its premier, never fear. The Hallmark Channel will be showing An American in Austen again tonight (Thursday) at 8/7c. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we'll return next week with a review of the final movie (and only page-to-screen adaption) in the set, Sense and Sensibility.


Again, here is a helpful graphic with all the film release dates.


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