Sunday, August 12, 2007

Thoughts on a Film I Have No Intention of Seeing

Ever since it opened in Israel last month, I've been struck by the occasional urge to see Becoming Jane, for no better reason than that I want to know for certain whether it truly is as vile and offensive as the trailers and reviews make it out to be. The thought of subjecting myself to a two-hour version of the trailer is usually enough to bring me to my senses. It's not even as if I'm likely to get a blog post out of the experience--most of the salient points have been made time and again. AustenBlog has been pretty good about rounding up the sane reviews and skewering the silly ones, and the same objections I had when I first heard about the film keep cropping up: why is it necessary for a man to jump-start Austen's genius? And whence the belief that the creative process is nothing more than glorified stenography? This rather brilliant condensation of the film says it all quite nicely.
Maggie Judy Smith Dench:

Hello Austen! I am a cruel and haughty and one-dimensional snob, but I do lament that it is my misfortune to not be very funnym either. Miss Austen, there's a prettyish sort of wilderness over there.

Jane:

Stop! I must take a moment to crib your writing in a cheap gesture towards my observational talent. [writes it down] Okay, done! Heave, bosom, heave.
But it's the inimitable Anthony Lane, reviewing Becoming Jane for The New Yorker, who offers what I think is the most important criticism of the film:
the whole film, though dotted with passable jokes and packed—this being period drama—with long-gowned maidens hoofing about the dance floor, builds up to a climactic grief, with the middle-aged Lefroy encountering Austen and letting her know, through the moistness of his eyes and the graying of his whiskers, that he mourns What Might Have Been.

For any Austen reader, this sadness will be hard to share. Lefroy rose to become Chief Justice of Ireland, and the idea that Jane might have married him, and spent her days organizing soirées for the legal profession instead of sitting peacefully at home writing about Emma Woodhouse, is dreadful to contemplate.
And therein lies the fundamental fallacy of Becoming Jane, and of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice before it--the belief that Jane Austen wrote novels about romance and love, when in fact she was writing about marriage, and about the moral and practical considerations that go into making it. The endings of her novels are happy not simply because her heroines have found True Love but because they've been spared from spinsterhood and the poverty that would almost inevitably accompany it, and her stories are largely concerned with the question of where the right balance between sentiment and mercenary considerations lies--is Charlotte Lucas right, in other words, to accept Mr. Collins? If Becoming Jane were truly interested in depicting Austen's growth as an artist, it would show her coming to understand these hard truths, and realizing just how precarious her position as unmarried, female artist was.

Which, for all I know, it does--but no one seems to have said so.

3 comments:

Matt said...

As long as we're on the subject, have you seen the Jane Austen "choose your own adventure" book yet?

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Austen-Create-Your-Adventure/dp/1594482586

A.R.Yngve said...

This is only the beginning of a wave which started with Shakespeare In Love. Look out for these coming films:

- BECOMING BECKETT: The young Samuel Beckett loses the love of his life while waiting for her, but the loss inspires him to write the masterpiece Waiting For Godot.

- ROWLING'S ROMANCE: The young J.K.Rowling suffers the end of an unhappy relationship, but survives the pain through writing the first Harry Potter book.

- THE BORSTAL BOY IN LOVE: Heartache causes Brendan Behan to drink himself to death, while he also becomes immortalized as an author.

- THE PASSION OF LIONEL: Legendary British hackwriter Lionel Fanthorpe almost stops writing paperbacks when the great love affair of his youth ends, but he finds solace in religion and becomes a minister.

(And don't get me started on the film about Jeffrey Archer... )

Simon said...

"The endings of her novels are happy not simply because her heroines have found True Love but because they've been spared from spinsterhood and the poverty that would almost inevitably accompany it, and her stories are largely concerned with the question of where the right balance between sentiment and mercenary considerations lies--is Charlotte Lucas right, in other words, to accept Mr. Collins?"

The better question is, is Elizabeth right to reject him?

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