11 August, 2007

Becoming Jane: Thoughts, Opinions, Warnings

Notice: Spoiler warnings -- my apologies! But any of you who know a little about Austen know that she never married, and she died fairly young.

I wanted to send a link before any of you take your daughters to see this movie. My sixteen yo daugther and I saw it together on Tuesday last, and I was a little shocked at some strong sexual innuendo in two or three scenes.

I'll link to screenit.com, but their list of sexuality and unnecessary (not to mention strong) innuendo, etc. is even longer than mine! That's affirming, since I was beginning to doubt my first reaction and assessment by week's end. Do read the linked specifics then consider your family's personal standards.

One thing I can't disagree with more is Screenit's mention of Jane's love interest (Tom LeFroy) being like Darcy. That is true in the initial "disdain" of him, but Darcy is not the only Austen character who was perceived early on in this way. Mr. LeFroy was penniless and very dependent upon his Uncle (a lawyer,his seeming guardian, and his teacher in the law). No, Mr. LeFroy is much more like Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility (the novel moreso than the movie, even, I'll explain. Willoughby really thought/knew that to maintain his lifestyle and rich tastes, that he needed to make a financially beneficial match, not to mention his very rich Aunt, whose estate he would receive upon her death, did not approve of Miss Dashwood. Willoughby later seriously regretted his engagement, knowingly hurting the woman he really loved, returning later to try to make a sad but admirable explanation to the elder Miss Dashwood, whom he greatly respected.

In the worldly sense, LeFroy is like Willoughby and his relationship with the poor Marianne Dashwood, but he is also like Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. One difference between LeFroy and the character of Henry Crawford is that Crawford is rich and could easily support Fanny Price. Henry also settles down from his wild ways when one finally can begin to believe that Henry really is falling in love with Fanny and not just trying to make her another conquest, as LeFroy is portrayed in BJ, the movie. But one can't help but wonder that if Fanny and Jane had accepted these men in marriage, how faithful would they have been on down the line. Rather like Willoughby and Marianne Dashwood, as well. In the movie MP, which isn't very reliable and faithful to the book, btw, Henry does not stay faithful in the worst sense of the word very shortly after Fanny finally breaks up with him. I do not remember how that scene plays out in the book.

There are many characters or scenes in the movie, supposedly from Jane's life, that she builds into her novels. I do remember having read this from other sources in the past, but how reliable are those sources, according to some reviews that I have read. Some say her biography was beefed up by family members early on.

There is a man the movie portrayal of "Becoming Jane," a friend of Jane's brother's, who is a student of the pastorate soon to take on his own parish. You see echoes of this story (if it is true) in Mr. Collins in P & P. This man was referred to (by his friends, no less), in a derogatory way as being a "sour-faced virgin" and that they needed to take him to a Tahitian love-fest. This scene was never acted upon in the movie, however.

Another character in the movie, Eliza
De Feuillide, reminds me quite a bit in posture and demeanor of Mary Crawford in MP.

I did enjoy the movie...in part. The costumes, music, and artistic cinematography were absolutely lovely, but one leaves wondering how much of it actually happened. It still left me feeling manipulated and wondering what was the true story behind LeFroy's and Austen's love. One also may leave with mixed feelings about its morality message(s). Indeed, Mr. LeFroy was portrayed as a worldly man in this movie, but he did seem to settle down when he genuinely fell in love with Jane. Jane also makes the best final decision about leaving everything and eloping in disgrace...in the movie. In real life, I think her parents just flat out did not approve of the match. It's been several years since I studied this, so this information has since been sent to the basement archives of my brain, and may be shaky. My dear Hubster studied Jane Austen in Graduate School for his English and Lit. degree, and we used to share much of what he learned, and I've read the critical essays that he had to study for class and literary notes and recommended versions of Austen, as well.

Backtracking to a comparison of similar library scenes:

In Becoming Jane and in Mansfield Park, our leading ladies surprisingly catch the bad boys of the stories in a mutual friend's library, reading, of all things. This goes against both heroines imagined perceptions or suppositions of these characters, whom these ladies perceived as shallow.

One difference in the library scenes from this movie and from MP is this: LeFroy begins reading aloud to Jane from a book about animal sexual behavior. In MP, Henry is reading aloud to Fanny about a caged bird, and I think it is rather sad and written in prose.

When Tom LeFroy has finished reading aloud to Jane in this movie about animal behavior, he ends it by telling Fanny that she needs to be taught the ways of the world by someone with experience (implying himself).

LeFroy gives Jane a bawdy book to read, Tom Jones by Fielding, which reference is made to in Northanger Abbey.

Would our main male characters in this movie and some of Austen's novels have been faithful in the long haul, if they had married our heroines? With Henry in MP, you really don't believe so, but with LeFroy, maybe. In the movie, "Becoming Jane," he does seem to return a little bit to his former life, but the scene portrays him in a true state of emptiness and depression. He doesn't give in to those old worldly pleasures after things don't work out the way he wanted them to (in the movie portrayal), which is a nice scene, morally, and leads you to think he truly did turn around and settle down. BUT how much of this really happened? We'd have to
do more research to verify.

I hope this clarifies some of the more subtle comparisons of this movie to Austen's writings, which may go unnoticed by those whom are mostly familiar with S & S, P & P, but not her Juvenilia (writings from childhood and teen years) or less-read-by-the-general public novels such as MP or Northanger Abbey, both of which you should read soon, if you haven't already!! It's been about two years since I read the Juvenilia and letters, so I hate to make any more comparisons without further re-study of her contemporaries or literary criticisms.

Did Jane really meet Ann Radcliffe in real life? I thought I had read in a lit. crit. somewhere that she did not like the sensationalism of Radcliffe's writings. I'll have to fossick around for that info.

If I but had all the time in the world, I could write more, but must get on with some book restoration work.

Perhaps another time I will list the books and literary criticisms recommended in Hubster's graduate course in Jane Austen,
if there is interest.

For further interesting links see:

The Austen Blog for their opinions about BJ and other reviewers' reviews of the movie.

and for your own deeper research:

selected bibliography and other links from one of my favorite Austen sites.
Jane Austen Society biography and other links




Tim's Mom said...

I thought Persuasion and the Captain were supposed to be more like the real Jane Austen?

I take it this isn't the same movie that PBS will be showing about Jane Austen?

Mother Auma said...

I am glad to have your opinions on the other book-movies, as well as Becoming Jane. I have been eyeing the Jane Austen PBS specials, thinking it might be nice to watch Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey, which I have never seen.

Now I can be an informed audience member!

Javamom said...

I'm going to be looking into some bio material more deeply to see if I can find more reliable info.

I am not sure what the PBS special or documentary/docudrama will be like. It is hard to tell from the PBS website, isn't it? I've subbed to the Masterpiece Theatre newsletter to be informed of any updates.