Becoming Jane

Discussion in 'Movie Reviews' started by a mere housewife, May 29, 2008.

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  1. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    (I posted this review on Amazon a couple months ago: with so many Austen fans I thought it might be helpful to post it here.)

    Having read & loved all of Austen's novels (including her early, misspelled works such as 'Love and Freindship') and her letters I found this highly fictionalized film entertaining, but highly fictionalized.

    Jane's letters to Cassandra refer to Tom Lefroy on only a couple of occasions (for more see the wikipedia article on Tom Lefroy) in an off-hand manner and without much serious regard, though she evidently found him charming. Her letters, like her novels, demonstrate that her values and relationships were proper and conventional; her satire is leveled not only at those who regarded form without substance, but at those who disregarded form: and she comes across rather as an amused (at times heartlessly so) onlooker than an impassioned lover or feminist (her novels not only assume but celebrate in their own ironical way the traditional roles of women in her society). She does not demonstrate a great deal of cosmic concern for justice, women's issues, or even, especially as a younger woman, for the suffering she meets with in her own sheltered sphere (on hearing that a woman she knew had had a fright and delivered a dead child she wrote something to the effect of "she must have caught sight of her husband"). She was a dutiful daughter, sister, aunt, etc. and there is nothing in her own autobiographical accounts of herself to suggest that the portrait presented here is anything more than another modern misreading of the past. The attempt to make Jane more accessible and sympathetic fails if we turn her into something we can meet on our own terms, rather than attempting to change or broaden our world enough to meet her on hers. Jane's governing and lucid appreciation of good manners and good morals and good sense, and the fine societal satire that ensues as she throws characters with various combinations of faults into the arena, rewards those with virtue and punishes the unvirtuous, is simply not very much in evidence in this film which attempts to understand her works and her whole psyche in a blighted love affair.

    It's a detail, but even the assumption of what people in that age would find physically attractive is a modern innovation. Jane makes explicit throughout her letters that thin people (such as the lovely Anne Hathaway) were considered 'plain', not very healthy-looking, etc., whereas the beauties were plump, had wide faces, and so on. Another detail: Northanger Abbey by Jane satirizes such books as The Mysteries of Udolpho. It seems that Mrs. Radcliffe was either a consciously ironic or simply a blunderingly ignorant choice to appear in the movie as some sort of mentor: again this results from trying to understand Jane's life in terms of feminism issues which she simply doesn't seem to feel as a fundamental tension if her own works are to represent her.

    So, I enjoyed the movie as a generally well done modern fiction about an unspecified person in a fictionalized past, but not as a serious approach to Miss Austen or her society (and it wasn't so compellingly well conceived that I feel any need to own the movie). Perhaps it would be impossible to produce a serious approach given the unenthusiastic reception it could only meet with in our generation of torrid, blunt 'passions' without respect for anything so fine as Austen's virtue: how many modern lovers would really find Miss Austen's moralism all that palatable: how many would even attempt to understand her old fashioned views if there were no tragic 'modern' secret like a near elopement in her past?

    In actuality, the only reference we have for elopements from her own works present them as hasty, even shameful; certainly incorrect: yet even with -- perhaps even in part because of?-- such an apparently un-modern outlook she managed to produce the brilliant novels we still adore. I love Jane; which is why I can't fall head over heels for this film.
  2. Simply_Nikki

    Simply_Nikki Puritan Board Junior

    I've always enjoyed Victorian period films, and just started to get into Jane Austen, I bought her book "Persuasion" today at the bookstore. Becoming Jane was on my list of movies to see, so thanks for the review; I had a feeling the film would be hollywood-tized somehow.

    (btw sorry i don't know how to comment without actually "reviewing" :( I haven' seen it yet to give it all ones)
  3. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    What is so interesting is that this movie can fly in the face of the many excellent reproductions of her own books that get sooo many things right. The A&E Pride and Prejudice, combined with the BBC Pride and Prejudice, get everything right between the two of them. Same thing with S&S and Emma. The most recent P&P, of course, was a disaster, the one with Keira Knightley.
  4. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    You are right, and that's only to mention the recent ones. Many good movies have been made using Austen's material directly or indirectly. (Even "Clueless") Great storytelling is great storytelling.
  5. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

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