A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I love Jane Austen’s novels. When I got a Kindle way back in the day, the first book I got was her complete works. My favorite of hers is Pride and Prejudice, which I read for the first time in high school. I may be a traitor to my generation, but I will always love the 90s miniseries version with Colin Firth more than the 2005 movie adaptation. Sorry not sorry.
When I heard YA author Rachael Lippincott was writing her own take on P&P, I was so freaking excited. I love Rachael and her writing, so I knew I was going to love her book: Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh. The novel does something really fun: Instead of fully modernizing the story or keeping it set back in the 1800s, it does both! And to make it even better, it’s sapphic! Who could ask for anything more?
Told in alternating perspectives, Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh is less a story about life in Regency England or contemporary Pittsburgh and more a story about making choices and being true to yourself even when it feels impossible.
Audrey lives in 2023 Pittsburgh. Her parents own a struggling corner store they live above. She’s a senior in high school and loves art; her dream was to study at Rhode Island School of Design before a breakup with her boyfriend. She also didn’t get in, but she does have the opportunity to create a new portfolio. The only problem is that all of her artistic confidence was tied to the boy who broke her heart. When they broke up, she lost her connection to art, and she can’t seem to find anything to inspire her.
One day, Mr. Montgomery, an eccentric old man who is a regular customer to her family’s store, comes in and gives her a good talk about finding a new source of inspiration. When he gives her a quarter, she has no idea what’s to come.
Lucy lives in England in 1812. Her mother died, so it’s just her and her wealthy but emotionally cold father and assorted house staff. While Lucy’s mom always encouraged her to find true love and escape the fate of being married off for money, her death makes that nothing more than a pipe dream. Lucy’s father is planning to marry her off to Mr. Caldwell, the richest man in the county, who is also much older than Lucy. She knows this isn’t the life she wants, but as a young woman with no wealth of her own, she doesn’t see any other options for herself.
When Lucy goes outside one afternoon, she is not prepared to see Audrey in the grass. Mr. Montgomery’s quarter sent her back in time, and neither girl can really understand why. They soon realize inspiration can come in unlikely forms.
The biggest theme of Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh is self-discovery. Audrey has been so stuck in her own head after her breakup that she’s lost any sense of self. Wrapping herself up in a boy and his orbit felt so unbelievably relatable. Losing yourself in your first relationship is so common, but it feels especially strong for teenagers. Audrey made a boy her world; his friends were her friends, and more importantly, her self-worth as an artist was tied to him and his opinion of her. So when he breaks up with her and all of their mutual friends graduate and leave her behind, she is adrift.
Her feelings are compounded by the fact that she can’t figure out who she is as an artist without the validation of this group. Even though going to art school was a dream, she doesn’t think she’s capable of it without them. So when she doesn’t get into RISD, she feels like it’s a sign, even though it’s only a minor setback. Her problem isn’t a lack of talent; it’s a loss of self and a lack of confidence.
Lucy is lacking confidence for a very different reason. She has no autonomy, which slowly causes an erosion of her sense of self. You get glimpses of the strong-willed girl she used to be, but her mother’s death has had a profound impact on her life. It wasn’t just the loss of a parent who understood her, but the loss of someone who allowed her to be herself, even though who she was didn’t necessarily fit the model. Lippincott really nails the spirit of an Austen heroine in creating Lucy. There is that headstrong quality, but we get to see what happens when the girl isn’t nurtured and loved.
Even though Lucy doesn’t get the autonomy to be who she is, there are fun glimpses here and there. She defies what she knows her father would like and has a dress she wants to wear made for her. She also hides tawdry romance novels under the floorboards of her room. When her father is gone, she rides horses and spends time with her friends. Her diminishment comes from the need for self-preservation. Unlike Audrey, she doesn’t have the freedom to find herself. It’s easier for her to make her true self small so she can put it in a box under the floorboards too.
I loved the development of Lucy and Audrey’s relationship. Despite Audrey being from 200 years in the future, they never treat each other as something foreign. Obviously there is some culture shock. Audrey is horrified by the amount of undergarments required of women, and Lucy is fascinated by the carefree nature of dancing in your bedroom to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”. The smelling salts used by Lucy’s caretaker Martha make for some comedic situations, and Audrey tells Lucy she wouldn’t be able to handle the crispness of a McDonald’s Sprite, which I loved. That’s a burn that hurts so good, but if you aren’t used to carbonation, it would be a lot!
Like in any good romance, Lucy and Audrey bring out the best in each other, whether they mean to or not. Audrey has no shortage of inspiration in Lucy, who gives her the space to tap back into her creativity. Lucy finds the permission she needs to be her true self when she’s around Audrey thanks to her modern lack of grace. Their unexpected friendship gives way to feelings neither is sure they can act upon. Can you fall in love with a girl when there’s a 200 year barrier between you?
Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh is really such a delightful story. Lippincott is really good at writing stories with a sweet ending, fully fleshed out characters, and stakes rooted in something very real. Self-discovery is often a theme in her books, and I understand why — she nails it every time. Even though Lucy lives in 1812, her story never feels stuffy or stagnant. Both girls have such distinct voices, and you can’t help but get sucked in. The time travel element reminded me of Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop in that it just felt like a matter of fact and not something unrealistic or forced.
If you’re looking for a fun romp that will have you longing for the green fields of Regency England while you dance to Whitney Houston, then you should absolutely pick up Pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh.