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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Not loving it

A lot of Austen fans refer to our beloved author as “Jane.”

 

I do not.

 

Partly, that’s because I don’t want to participate in a somewhat infantilizing familiarity that seems to be reserved for female writers—Emily, Charlotte, and Jane sound like less consequential artists than Shakespeare, Dickens, and Fielding.

 

And partly it’s because I doubt Austen would have approved: When the teenaged Catherine Morland progresses rapidly to calling her conniving new friend “Isabella,” or when the officious Mrs. Elton insists on speaking of her downtrodden protégée as “Jane,” it’s not a sign of mature discretion and good judgment.

 

So I’ll admit that my hackles were already up on Saturday night, when I tuned in to Love & Jane, the second of the Hallmark Channel’s four Austen-themed “Loveuary with Jane Austen” movies. (What, they couldn’t call it Love & Austen? Or at least drop the cutesy ampersand?) And then a few minutes in, our heroine tells the member of her Austen book group--the “Jane Society”--exactly what she likes about each “Jane book.”

 

I winced.

 

Still, I might have been able to forgive these cringey familiarities if what followed had been a delightful and heartfelt romcom. Instead, Love & Jane proved to be a charmless and unfunny exercise in faux Austen-love, the Janeite equivalent of a tasteless frozen pizza long past its sell-by date.  

 

The story, such as it is, centers on Lilly (Alison Sweeney), a passionate Austen fan with an uninspiring boyfriend (“You sound like Mr. Collins,” she tells him, to which he replies, “I don’t know what that means”—clearly, he’s a nonstarter) and an unfinished novel gathering dust in a desk drawer. By day, Lilly preps ad copy for a new bookstore/unintelligible web venture owned by Trevor, a haughty rich dude (Benjamin Ayres) who is meant to be a Mr. Darcy stand-in but whose appalling quiff leaves him hopelessly underqualified for the job. By night, Jane Austen herself keeps turning up to offer our heroine pep talks and lessons in tea-pouring.

 

This situation--an Austen fan experiences the ultimate Janeite fantasy!—could be comedy gold,  but that potential goes unrealized here. Lilly doesn’t seem to have anything to ask her idol, and Austen seems remarkably uncurious about the modern world. Subplots—a budding romance between two of Lilly’s shy co-workers, talk of a long-desired trip to England, the aforementioned business venture—are treated with a superficiality that barely deserves to be called perfunctory.

 

As blog readers will recall, last week’s Loveuary entry, Paging Mr. Darcy, contained a wealth of enjoyable Janeite in-jokes. By contrast, Love & Jane is filled with throwaway details that land about thirty degrees off where they should, as if the script had been written by someone whose knowledge of Austen and her fans came solely from a rapidly skimmed Wikipedia entry.

 

Characters refer to Austen’s best-loved novel as Pride, rather than P&P, or describe the widely adored Clueless as “underappreciated.” Lilly’s shelves hold a thick bound volume titled Lesley Castle and another called The Beautiful Cassandra—two scraps of Austenian juvenilia that run to, respectively, thirty pages and four pages in my printed edition. Our heroine’s last name is Thorpe—what, are we not supposed to like her?--and the kindly proprietor of the local pub is Mr. Wickham. When the Austen avatar shows up, she uses un-Austenian Latinisms like “emolument”; claims that it was the Prince Regent, rather than his librarian, who suggested novel plots to her; and evinces a curious obsession with how many head of cattle eligible suitors own, as if the time-machine flight that delivered her into 2023 had passed an eight-hour layover on the American frontier.

 

And when, at movie’s end, the coupled-up, soon-to-be-published Lily announces that, for her next project, “I thought I could tell the story of Pride, but from Mr. Darcy’s point of view,” Austen doesn’t offer either of the responses provided in my TV room: “It’s been done” (me) or “How dare you steal my intellectual property?” (husband). Instead, she calls this well-worked idea “clever.”

 

The apotheosis of all this ersatz Austen detail comes, appropriately enough, during that classic romcom moment, the public declaration of love. Midway through a Jane Society meeting, Trevor—previously identified as someone who doesn’t like Austen—begs Lilly to give him a second chance, à la Persuasion, which he has now read.

 

“ 'I examined my own heart, and there you were—never, I fear, to be removed,' ” he tells her soulfully.

 

“Jane!” she coos, apparently in delighted recognition.

 

“Yes,” he replies.

 

“WTF?” I exclaimed.

 

Because, as a few minutes of Googling and cross-checking established, Trevor’s line comes not from any Austen novel but from the 2009 adaptation of Emma, which stars Romola Garai in a screenplay by Sandy Welch. But I guess Love & Sandy just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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8 Comments


rearadmiral doublezero
rearadmiral doublezero
Feb 15

I was very pleased with the two seconds of air time the North End received. And a few Boston skyline shots. :)

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Feb 15
Replying to

I am sure they came into Boston with no other aim. :-)

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allison.1775.thompson
Feb 13

I am temporarily without a home computer so can't view the movie (don't want to, from your review), but it sounds as if the writers sadly misread the room.....or, more accurately, didn't read at all.....


BTW, Georgette Heyer uses "cattle" to mean horses, as when some buck or beau stables some of his cattle along the post road to enable his journeys with his own horses. (However, she doesn't use "head of cattle," as we do to mean moo cows.) I don't know where she got this usage--her research is generally impeccable!--and the 1813 dictionary of the vulgar tongue, which she did use extensively for her slang, doesn't have this usage in it.

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Feb 13
Replying to

I was thinking about the Heyer-esque use of "cattle" also, but it didn't seem to be what the writers of this movie had in mind--they were talking about cows, not horses. In any case, I don't think JA ever uses the word in either context: She would be asking how many thousands a year the suitor had, I would think. And this could have been funny!--the heroine saying, "Oh, not that much--maybe 30,000," and JA being astonished that this wasn't enough for her. But no--another missed opportunity. This movie also had a bit of alleged Regency dancing in it that, um, I doubt will pass historical muster with you. If you get a chance to see it, you will have to…

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Emily Gold
Emily Gold
Feb 12

And also on that stupid bookshelf with all the same-width books was "Love and Friedship." Seriously?? Inverting the i and e wasn't enough--there had to be a typo too?

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Feb 12
Replying to

Ha! I didn't even notice that one -- good catch!

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Kylowna Moton
Kylowna Moton
Feb 12

Thank you for watching this (and writing about it), so I don’t have to. Sounds unbearable!


I hope the S&S at the end of the month is a good one! I’m looking forward to that one.

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Feb 12
Replying to

I live to serve. 😊

And yes -- I have my fingers crossed for S&S too! Although given the amount of commercial time in these Hallmark movies, the running time of the movie is going to be pretty short: I'm curious to see how they're going to squeeze in all the plot. . .

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