“Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation” by Alice McVeigh

Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation

Alice McVeigh
Warleigh Hall Press (2022)
ISBN: 978-1916882331
Reviewed by Ashley Hooker for Reader Views (07/2022)

The second book in the Jane Austen Variation Series, “Harriet” is a take on the original work of Jane Austen, titled “Emma.” Alice McVeigh develops an interesting construct when she changes the personalities of the cherished characters Jane Austen created.

In “Harriet” Emma takes on the role of mentor to young Harriet Smith. Harriet is in the care of Mrs. Goddard due to having no parentage. Harriet has an unknown benefactor who pays for her schooling with Mrs. Goddard, and she understands her limited place in society. The idea of being friends with Emma Woodhouse is an opportunity for Harriet to experience a life she may never lead, spending their time together visiting, shopping, and dining with Highbury’s most eligible bachelors, and Harriet becomes the mischievous matchmaker with a secret of her own.

Emma is a lady who has vowed never to marry, but when Jane Fairfax comes to town, her attitude changes. She can’t understand why all the men seem to love her. Of course, Jane is the complete opposite of Harriet and Emma’s rival. Men like Mr. Frank Churchill, Mr. Crawford, and Mr. Dixon are all keen to know Jane more. Society believes her beautiful and talented. Miss Fairfax is forever charming the gentlemen with her playing of the pianoforte. What they don’t know is Jane is carrying a secret, too. 

Harriet and Jane are both orphans and both want love, but Harriet is the character that jumps off the page. Harriet is the girl that sees beyond the surface. She can read a situation and uses her knowledge to make a match. Often, she tells Emma who is interested in whom and then watches the outcome. Jane, on the other hand is more fragile. She tends to draw away from society when the situation gets too tough.

I enjoyed reading McVeigh’s take on Emma, Harriet, and Jane. When I opened the book, it felt like I was reading their diary. There was not much dialogue, rather a telling of the events. I was taken by the way society worked in Harriet’s day. History has shown that women then were to become brides or governesses. Dating or courtship did not last long. Women were objects of men’s affections and often taken advantage of. For the women born lower in society, there was little chance of moving up. Even so, Harriet shows how women mostly accepted this way of thinking. It was their way of life. She also showed me there are some characteristics of dating in 1815 we should consider bringing back.

My biggest concern with “Harriet” is the lack of dialogue. As stated earlier, I felt like I was reading another’s diary. At times, I would become irritated with the childish nature of Harriet, Emma, and even Jane. I admit that as a woman in America in the 21st century, it is hard to understand the nature of life written about in this book, which could be the source of my frustrations.

McVeigh separates the chapters for Harriet and Jane, making the story easier to follow. Harriet does lead the story, though. “Harriet” is given characteristics Jane Austen fans may not appreciate. Unlike the Harriet, in Austen’s Emma, McVeigh’s Harriet is raised to major importance. She becomes the lead character. Overall, Alice McVeigh has taken a great leap with this variation, but one that is worthy.

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