What would Jane Austen do? Do I actually care? She's hardly a great prophet, leader or guru; she's an excellent novelist who died relatively young nearly two hundred years ago.
Author Laurie Brown seems to think Jane Austen's guidance is worthwhile, and the theme 'What would Jane Austen do' runs through the book. In this story, our heroine, Jane Austen fan Eleanor Pottinger, finds herself thrust back in time by two ghosts to try to prevent a duel after a seduction. Eleanor looks like their cousin, a woman who had been living in America, and Eleanor of course knows a great deal about the Regency era - she's a Regency costume-maker, for example – and manages to fit in fairly well.
She finds herself at a house party where the young women, eventually to become the two ghosts, look after Eleanor but show their youth in their rather carefree manners. Eleanor can see how one of them was seduced. She knows the seducer, too: Lord Shermont, a mysterious but handsome man who is part of the house party. We also follow events from Shermont's point of view. The reader learns that he works for the government and is on the track of a Napoleonic spy who also has an accomplice - who might just be Eleanor.
Eleanor occasionally repeats the refrain "What would Jane Austen do?"
when trying to overcome a problem in her situation. She gets the chance to meet the author in person, although this is a fairly minor part of the story. Most of the action is Eleanor trying to keep the two young women out of mischief, coping with life in the Regency, and being attracted to Shermont. I didn't feel that the Jane Austen aspect added anything to the book - in fact for me it was slightly obsequiously overdone - but that might be my British sensibilities showing through.
Brown has clearly researched much of the content of the book quite thoroughly - specifically mealtimes, bathing and clothing - and there were some interesting vignettes into life at a country house gathering. However, there are also some jarring elements, such as American words and phrasing issuing from the mouths of the English Regency characters and the feeling that the behavior of several of the characters is rather more 21st century than 19th.
The narrative is well plotted, and all the threads are tied up at the end. This is overall an enjoyable read, but even when I had finished it and my eye caught the title again, "What Would Jane Austen Do?", I found myself saying, "Who cares?"