Unbecoming Jane

Miramax is releasing a new motion picture called “Becoming Jane Austen,” which purports to tell of Jane’s abortive romance with a wild Irish lawyer. There is no doubt that, when she was young, Austen met Tom Lefroy, a young Anglo-Irish lawyer, thought he was nice, and had fun dancing with him. That’s it. That’s what we know about him. If there’s anything else, it’s long gone, since her beloved sister Cassandra destroyed all of Jane’s letters. From this minute bit of information, the film’s makers have created an elaborate story that has Jane railing against the confines of her ordinary life, setting people’s backs up, and spying on skinny dipping young men (shades of another Miramax film, Room with a View). I’ve read several biographies of Jane Austen and none of them indicate that she was anything but an ordinary young English woman of the time, albeit one with splendid observational skills, a sparkling sense of humor, and biting wit. There’s no hint in the real history that she deviated from the social mores of her times (although one solid fellow citizen in her town did think her silly).

The movie makers seem to be succumbing to an uncontrollable urge to modernize poor Jane. The 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice turned me off completely because, within minutes of opening, it had Keira Knightley prancing and preening like a modern girl readying herself for a hip-hop evening. Not content with updating the books, the studios are now trying to update Jane herself. What they seem to have done, though, is turned the whole thing into a generic modern romance, with a feisty heroine who bucks the trends, and finds her true self at the end. It’s a perfectly fine plot conceit, but it offends me that they’ve involved Jane Austen in this effort.

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    Why did her sister destroy her letters, do you know?

  • http://bookwormroom.wordpress.com/ Bookworm

    Privacy. Jane, who predeceased her sister, was famous by the time she died. After her death, Cassandra made damn sure that any secrets Jane had would be buried with her.

  • JJ

    Well, that, of course, leaves an open field for speculation. People have wondered for centuries who her love interest was; who Shakespeare’s “dark lady” was; who that was who occasionally earned an oblique mention in Emily Dickinson’s few surviving notes – so the lesson for those of you who plan to become famous auteurs is clear:
    Leave a damn diary behind! NOT with your sister!

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    I like the word twist, Book, very amusing on the title.

    JJ

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    [whops one of those angle brackets cut my commentoff]

    JJ, the problem is that it is narcissistic. Meaning, if a person actively seeks out immortality and records their thoughts in letters for posterity… that is kind of grandiose. Which may or may not have impacted Jane Austen’s novels.

    Although the question becomes, if Jane is dead… why would she care about her privacy? Wouldn’t it be more logical to think that Cassandra was worried about hearing rumours and gossip about her sister? I mean Jane is dead, she lives on only in her words, written, don’t think recordings were available back then.

    If she didn’t want to be remembered, then you’d probably have to erase every book of hers from the continuum.

    Victorian mores, Weird. Almost anachronistic. Still, it would be interesting to get Jane’s perspective on this privacy thing. Meaning, was privacy so important amongst polite society in England that you would wish to destroy sacred and important family heirlooms/records (like letters) simply because of the threat of public exposure?

  • Marguerite

    Just an FYI – Jane Austen was 27 when she became engaged to Harris Big Wither on the evening of December 2, 1802, and she retracted her acceptance on the morning of December 3. Thirteen years later she wrote to her niece, Fanny, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Her heroines don’t marry for money, either.