Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Harriet by Alice McVeigh
on February 3, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction
Emma, a privileged young heiress, decides to mentor Harriet Smith, a pretty boarding-school pupil, and to matchmake her as eligibly as she can… But how is she to guess that Harriet has a secret?
Meanwhile, the brilliant, penniless Jane Fairfax consents to a clandestine engagement with Frank Churchill – though not daring to confess, even to him, that she is being relentlessly pursued by her best friend’s husband.
Harriet sidelines Emma herself in favour of the ingenious Harriet and the fascinating Jane Fairfax. It is Emma – but an Emma with a surprisingly believable twist in its tail.
Successfully debuting in the Austenesque world with Susan, Alice McVeigh continues to dazzle Austen lovers with a new retelling of Emma. Harriet sidelines that matchmaking lady and satisfies readers who ever wondered what two very different ladies were thinking as events transpired.
Since a tender age, Harriet Smith had boarded at Mrs. Goddard’s school in Highbury. Parentage unknown, but in possession of a wealthy benefactor who makes her stay possible. Emerging into adulthood with no future beyond her home village, Harriet longs for the excitement and color of London that wealth and situation can bring. Harriet forms a long plan.
Jane Fairfax is nothing like Harriet Smith save in her need for assistance in attaining the social sphere her family’s poverty has forced them to relinquish. Though living in London and being brought up as a lady alongside her dear friend, Miss Campbell, Jane did not forget what she owed to her widowed grandmother, garrulous spinster aunt, and the residents of Highbury.
Harriet was an entertaining romp particularly when Harriet Smith is narrating. She is fascinating from the first pages and has a goodly amount of larceny mingled with good sense and goodness in her. Keen in her reading of people, she sees them for what they are and doesn’t miss if they possess a trait she can exploit. I enjoyed seeing her sometimes making the choice that benefits herself best as she maneuvers people, but she doesn’t sink utterly because at crucial moments she does what is best for others. I was amused that ultimately Harriet was sideswiped by her own potential courtship and a secret from her past.
Now, the Jane Fairfax perspective was no less engaging. She is made of different stuff and doesn’t leap off the page like Harriet, but chooses to involve herself with a rascally man who wreaks havoc on her feelings and still manages to charm her. Harriet wouldn’t have put up with such a situation just as Jane couldn’t have made Harriet’s plotting for worlds. Jane longs to have a friend to know her heart’s secrets and her spirit is most revealed through her musical talents of song and pianoforte. Frank is first captured by her musical magic. She is short on faults making her less interesting though I found her very worthy.
I appreciated the way Ms. McVeigh infused the Emma story with originality. There will be moments that cause some Austen-loving readers to pause and grow consternated because ‘so and so would never’ think, do, or say such and such’. Best to go in open-minded and appreciate what comes. I will confess to wanting a bit more of certain characters like Mr. Knightley teased out to understand how he came to feel attached to one lady while there seemed more evidence in the story that he was leaning toward another. The reader is treated to something sparkling and fresh that still honored Austen’s original style, plot, and most especially her beloved characters.
Whether one is new to Austen and simply fond of historical fiction or a long-time fan, Harriet can be enjoyed either way and one I encourage readers not to miss.
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