Hey-ho Janeites. I hope that you are all coping during this crazy time. I am on lockdown here at Woodston Cottage trying to be productive while immersing myself in audiobooks and rom-com movies. It is Spring and the birds are singing, and the flowers are blooming. I have much to be grateful for.
Right now, we are all in need of some escapism, and what better way than with a time travel novel. The Jane Austen Project has been in my reading queue for a few years and seemed like the perfect choice given the current climate of high anxiety and uncertainty. Talk about the ultimate fantasy. What Jane Austen fan would not want to travel back in time to meet their favorite author? Heck yeah! So, let’s put on our best Regency frock and head on over to the local time machine and see what author Kathleen Flynn has created up for us. Here is a description of the book from the publisher.
London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.
Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.
But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.
Delightful from start to finish, The Jane Austen Project was just the ticket to dust off the Covid-19 blues and send me into total fangirl high. Thank you, Kathleen Flynn, for your meticulous research on Regency times and the Austen family. The use of a newly discovered Jane Austen letter written to her close friend Anne Sharp revealing that she completed The Watsons was the perfect catalyst to propel our modern-day time travelers back into 1815—a critical time in Austen’s life when she was working on edits for Emma and her health was beginning to decline.
While it took several chapters before our heroine Rachel meets the authoress herself, the anticipation was worth the wait. I won’t spoil it for readers yet need to say that Flynn’s version of Austen was spot on. Observant, clever, and witty—everything that Austen fans would expect. Along with Casandra, her sister Jane’s gatekeeper, and her brother Henry as the reckless banker and consummate flirt, you will find other family members populating the plot such as her brothers Edward and James and their families, and many Austen locations like Chawton Cottage and the Chawton Great House in the story.
My one disappointment was in the romantic relationship between Rachel and Liam. Thrown together on a mission to retrieve the manuscript they become intimate. This reminded the reader that they were indeed time travelers and not from the early 19th century. Their relationship was jarring and not as well developed as I had hoped, Since they were living in 1815, the romance could have been a lot more compelling if they had mirrored Jane Austen’s romantic couples in decorum instead of jumping into bed so abruptly. I realize that this is a matter of taste, but I believe that no matter what century that you are born in if you are transported into another era, you should stay within those social parameters while there.
Observant readers will discover some inside Janeite Easter eggs that just made me laugh (Ava Farmer) and a twist in the end that was totally unexpected. Well, this is a fantasy novel, after all, so you are forewarned. If I could wish for a different ending for Jane Austen and her writing career, I would not change a thing about how Flynn rewrote history. I recommend The Jane Austen Project as the perfect escape for those seeking a totally immersive, well-researched, and engaging read.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Jane Austen Project: A Novel, by Kathleen A. Flynn
Harper Perennial (May 2, 2017)
Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (384) pages
Cover image and book description courtesy of Harper Perennial © 2017; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, Austenprose.com