Every feeling revolts!

27 Feb

Someone has made a movie about Jane Austen’s life. It is called “Becoming Jane”, and it stars Anne Hathaway in the title role.

Anyone less suited to play Jane Austen I am hard pressed to find. I don’t know whose idea it was, but I find it insulting that they would give the part to such an inexperienced actress. I don’t think she’s qualified to play an exceptional woman like Jane Austen, and no, running around Manhattan in stiletto heels in The Devil Wears Prada does not count. Anne Hathaway’s talent is still unproven in my opinion, and I am even more upset because the filmmakers obviously think that having an American actress, any American actress, will help them make money. Whatever happened to talent? Whatever happened to art? In the words of Elizabeth Bennet “The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it”.

The filmmakers have relied on the book “Becoming Jane Austen: A Life” written by Jon Spence, who takes reading between the lines to the limit and makes some highly improbable suppositions about Jane Austen and her life’s work. In short, Spence claims that a well-known flirtation from Jane Austen’s youth marked her for life, that it was a serious love affair that could have culminated in marriage, and that the recipient of her attentions inspired Pride and Prejudice and the character of Elizabeth Bennet.  

The book has received several mentions in the press, due to the film’s publicity, and I’m sure the author will get quite a bit of ‘pewter’, as Jane called it. Good for him, but I think it’s shameful that he had to come up with a theory that has no foundation outside of his willful imagination so he could give his biography an interesting twist.

Much is made of the fact that Jane Austen lived a quiet life, unmarred by unspeakable tragedy or self-destructive tendencies. The scant corroborated details of her life come from her letters and from family recollections given many years after her death. She was not famous in her lifetime, she published her books anonymously and her sister Cassandra destroyed who knows how many letters after Jane died. All this makes it difficult to spin out the story of her life into a sensational money-maker and so her biographers usually concentrate on a specific angle to distinguish their work. Jon Spence (and the makers of the movie) have taken an arguably important part of Jane Austen’s early life and stretched it far beyond its bounds. 

Tom Lefroy is mentioned in Jane’s first surviving letter, and she describes him as “a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man”. He was the nephew of a friend and neighbor and though she might have “exposed herself” by being “most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together,” she knew all along that his visit would be short and he would leave. She says so herself in the same letter. I’m sure she probably always remembered him, but there is just no proof that it was anything more than a fun, youthful flirtation. Deidre Le Faye, the editor of Jane Austen’s Letters, says so in this article.

The problem with a fictionalized biography is that it gives the wrong impression about the subject. I dread to think of how many people will see “Becoming Jane” and think the story is true, and will forever think of Jane Austen as a forlorn woman, unable to write an original story purely from the genius of her imagination.

And it’s already started. This article made me fume and bristle. I fear the worst for the coming months.


4 Responses to “Every feeling revolts!”

  1. charlotteotter February 27, 2007 at 1:21 am #

    Great post! I haven’t seen the movie or read the biography but as a reader of Austen in my time, I don’t think it’s going to do her legacy any favours.

    I’ve just found your blog via the WordPress Tag Surfer and think it’s great. I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on things here, as reading, movies, family, living in strange cultures and cooking are also my preserves!

  2. lvmg February 27, 2007 at 6:15 pm #

    Thank you Charlotte! I’ve subscribed to your blog too and I’ll be a regular visitor.

  3. Lexie December 18, 2008 at 1:26 am #

    I know this is old news, but I just had to comment myself. I’ve seen the movie. Being a lover of Jane’s work, I felt I had to. And then I think my soul itself retched. Jane’s character is destroyed in this movie. I would hate to think that people honestly believe she was anything like this. I am utterly disgusted that this ever became a book, far less a movie. At least it’s refreshing to find that there are a few people out there who know there is no proof of this rubbish they call a biography.


  1. The Janeite Test & Becoming Jane « No.1 Mouse Place - September 13, 2007

    […] a related Jane Austen note, I watched three quarters of the movie Becoming Jane on one of my flights from Honduras. What a farce! It’s appalling, a shameless attempt to […]

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