"In the era which scorned a woman who could think on her own, an icon was born, who in her short lifespan, produced six of the greatest gems in English literature," writes Anantha.
Based loosely on the letters written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, Becoming Jane (Julian Jarrold, 2007) showcases the formative years of Jane Austen as an author and her real-life experiences which eventually led to the basis of her characters in “Pride and Prejudice” aka “First Impressions”.
A penniless woman with a literary mind was not a coveted position in the society which Jane Austen lived in. Discouraged and scorned by everyone around her other than her father and her amiable sister, Jane holds on to her hopes very dearly on becoming a successful author someday.
In the quiet country side of Hampshire, she often entertained her household guests with reading excerpts from her stories. In one such get-together, she encounters an Irish lawyer Mr. Tom Lefroy, who criticises her reading and earns her wrath. She calls him snobbish, ill-mannered and arrogant. After their initial hatred towards each other, they start developing a mutual interest, which leads Jane to visit Mr. Lefroy’s uncle, his patron in London. During her stay, the idea of Mr. Darcy starts formulating in her head, slowly and steadily and she embarks on writing her most famous novel “First Impressions”, later to be called “Pride and Prejudice”.
Anyone who has watched or read the novel can easily infer “Who’s who” in the author’s life. It is very clear that Elizabeth Bennett is Jane Austen herself, and her sister Cassandra, the amiable Jane Bennett. Tom Lefroy is Mr. Darcy and her sister Cassandra’s betrothed, Thomas Fowle, is the warm-hearted Mr. Bingley. Fowle goes to the Caribbean to make money and dies of yellow fever before his marriage to Cassandra Austen. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are Reverend Austen and his wife. Lady Catherine De Bourgh is based on a wealthy and intrusive aristocrat neighbour Lady Gresham, whose nephew Mr. Wisley is head over heels in love with Jane. She rejects him for the lack of spine and someone who is heavily influenced by his aunt. His clumsy dancing habits remind us of Mr. Wickham.
Unfortunately, Tom Lefroy’s uncle, who holds a respectable position of a high court judge, does not approve of his lawyer nephew settling down with a penniless authoress from the country side. Eventually the young couple decide to elope. But during their journey, Jane comes to know about the poor economic condition of Lefroy’s family. Jane sacrifices her love so that Lefroy can make a bright career of his own and support his kith and kin. Tom Lefroy, later marries an heiress and becomes the chief justice of Ireland. So ends the love story of Jane and Mr. Lefroy, unhappy and incomplete.
Jane confides to her sister Cassandra and even later to Mr. Wisley, that her novels will always have happy endings and her characters, after going through initial struggle will eventually get what they want. The story of two sisters in Pride and Prejudice, who marry the most eligible gentlemen and cherish the most advantageous marriages, is in reality, the unfulfilled dream of Jane and her sister Cassandra who remained unmarried the rest of their lives.
The movie concludes with an aged Jane Austen, who is by then a very famous authoress, reading excerpts from her book to Tom Lefroy’s daughter, who is also named “Jane”.
The movie however did go through its fair share of criticism, surprisingly not from Jane Austen’s fans, but from Tom Lefroy’s followers. The plot borrows heavily from the three letters written by Jane to her sister Cassandra about her encounters with Mr. Lefroy in numerous balls in Hampshire. Though the letters indicate Jane’s frivolous attraction towards Mr. Lefroy, the critics question the seriousness and the depth of the relationship portrayed in the movie.
Historic evidence indicates that Mr. Lefroy was very dedicated to his profession. He had visited Hampshire briefly and had met Jane Austen more than once. But very shortly after his encounters with Jane, he married an heiress, and went on to lead a successful personal and professional life. It is said that he did travel to Hampshire upon Jane Austen’s death and had confided to his nephew that he loved her, but it was more of a “boyish love”.
Hence the critics are not too much in favour of the strong romanticism shown in the movie, though they do not rule out the possibility of a light flirtation from both sides.
The movie indicates that the circumstances of Jane Austen’s own life had heavily influenced Pride and Prejudice, but the critics argue that she had already written Elinor and Marianne, later renamed Sense and Sensibility, which is also about two sisters, even before she met Mr. Tom Lefroy.
The movie does shed a lot of light on the life of Jane Austen, her relationships and especially the society she lived in. In the era which scorned a woman who could think on her own, an icon was born, who in her short lifespan, produced six of the greatest gems in English literature. It is a well-known fact that she struggled initially to get her books published, and I had hoped to see more about her other books and her writing journey in this film. It also does not cover the last days of Jane Austen and the circumstances which led to her untimely death.
The star cast is brilliant. Anne Hathway glides through her role as Jane Austen very smoothly, heavily complemented by James McAvoy as Mr. Lefroy. The costumes are gorgeous and the sets, impeccable.
Watch the movie in reminiscence of Pride and Prejudice, with certain unpleasant twists and turns. As ardent fans of Jane Austen, we will gain tremendous insight about the author’s life. Be assured, our inquisitive nature will lead us towards the subsequent research to dig more information about her.
And for the umpteenth time, we will again be lost in her world, only this time around, her “real life”. A call to all the kindred spirits who stand united through their love of Jane Austen, do not miss this movie!
Anantha is an IT Professional. Writing is her passion. She writes short stories, book reviews, movie reviews, small stories for children and play scripts for the theater. She regularly conducts storytelling workshops for children.