Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Becoming Jane

Pride and Prejudice is a great (if rather girly) book, and deservedly a classic; and Austen's books were unquestionably trendsetters. So when I found out there was a movie on Austen's life, I was quite excited.

Becoming Jane was a huge disappointment.

Here are the facts: Jane Austen had five brothers and a sister, Cassandra, whose fiancé died of yellow fever. At 21, Austen had a brief flirtation with Tom LeFroy. Six years later, a Mr Bigg-Wither proposed to her; she accepted him, only to change her mind and retract her acceptance the next day. In the end, she never married.

Becoming Jane is a romance. Surely, its makers say, Jane Austen must have had some spectacular romance, to write so well? And so they've set out to create a romance based on Jane's brief flirtation with Tom LeFroy.

Austen was an advocate of sense and propriety. She extolled love in marriage; but as books like Persuasion show, any woman who marries without security is a fool, and the world not well lost. But I doubt Becoming Jane's makers had read any Austen other than Pride and Prejudice.

What is shown in Becoming Jane is as follows: Cassandra's fiancé dies of yellow fever (true). Jane Austen has a passionate love affair with Tom LeFroy at the same time as she's being pursued by Mr Bigg-Wither (whose name is changed to Mr Wisley); Austen and LeFroy elope to Gretna Green; Austen changes her mind halfway through and returns home; and Bigg-Wither/Wisley kindly dumps her (untrue).

The overt sexuality in the movie is completely out of period. One scene in the library is almost laughably impossible — Austen would never have stood for such lewd talking, and LeFroy would not have attempted it. This is a modern movie putting a modern character in Georgian England; not a depiction of Jane Austen, a Georgian woman, as she really was.

The movie trailer says it wants to show Jane as a woman in love with life and all its possibilities. Instead, it diminishes the facts of Austen's life, magnifying her flirtation with LeFroy out of any reasonable proportion and bearing little comparison to Austen's real character.

It's a shame that, instead of a biography, Becoming Jane is a trite, unrealistic romance. The film-makers looked at her life, and found it dull. They've fabricated a much more Hollywood story, and told that one instead. But if you're not going to stick to the bare facts, don't pose as biographical. Jane Austen deserved a better tribute than this.

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