Becoming Jane

Becoming JaneOur general fascination with all things Jane Austen continues with this 2007 fictional glimpse into one short period of her life: that time when she was attracted to Tom Lefroy and would have formed an engagement if not for the objections of his family. I say fictional because the filmmakers have taken considerable license with what we understand as historical fact.  This is something movies do all of the time, but with Jane Austen it is best to take special care because her fans are quite dedicated.

It is a Sunday morning in 1795 in Hampshire, England. At the cottage of the Reverend George Austen (James Cromwell), youngest daughter Jane (Anne Hathaway), toils away at her writing while her sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin) and the others sleep.  When the servants get to work, Jane begins to play her piano loudly to wake everyone up.  Cassandra has just become engaged to Robert Fowle (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) who must travel to the West Indies to earn his pulpit.  The local grand dame, Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) is resolved that her nephew, Mr Wisley (Laurence Fox) will marry Jane, despite her poverty, but Jane is much less certain.  She desires to marry for love, not money, as is the custom.

Meanwhile, in London, young law student Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) drinks and carouses his way into the bad graces of his uncle, the Lord Chief Judge of the high court (Ian Richardson). Although he comes from a poor Irish family, his uncle is without heirs and Tom depends on the possible inheritance as the only way his family can survive.  After a night of drinking, Tom arrives late to court and his uncle berates him for his lack of decorum.  As punishment, and as a possible tonic for his Tom’s decadent lifestyle, his uncle sends him to the country to stay with relatives.

Arriving bored and angry, his friend Henry Austen (Joe Anderson) invites him to attend a tea to celebrate Cassandra and Robert’s engagement. Jane reads a lengthy, comedic tribute to the happy couple, but later overhears Tom disparaging her writing. In a pique of anger, she burns her marriage tribute and questions her other writing.  Henry, one of Jane’s older brothers who has just graduated from Cambridge, has also brought a priggish friend, John Warren (Leo Bill) to the party and he becomes smitten with Jane, although she finds his bumbling manner offensive.  Tom’s relations include his cousin, young Lucy Lefroy (Jessica Ashworth) who has a crush on Tom and hopes to make a match with him.  A member of the Austen party is Jane’s cousin, Eliza, the Comtesse de Feullide, who had been married to a French count, beheaded during the Revolution.  She takes a shine to Henry and hopes that her wealth will provide a means for him to become an officer in the English Navy.

Walking in the woods, Jane encounters Tom and they exchange uncivil words, but despite his criticism of her writing, Tom sees her intelligence and wit and is attracted to her. During an accidental meeting in the Lefroy library, he gives her a copy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones so that she can experience a more visceral form of writing.  When they discuss the morality of it, he remarks that good people can come to a bad end, but Jane has already grasped the prime purpose of what a good novel should be.  “A novel should reveal the true source of our actions,” she tells him.  This is the heart of good fiction: action must be organic.

Mr. Wisley finally asks to Jane to marry him, but she cannot in good conscience say yes to him. She doesn’t love him, although she is beginning to respect him.  Her mother (Julie Walters) is very distressed by this refusal, but her father takes it more in stride.  Even so, he is realistic about the world.  “Nothing destroys spirit like poverty,” he tells Jane.  But Jane wants to marry for love and gradually realizes that she loves Tom.  At a ball, Lady Gresham confronts Jane, telling her explicitly that her nephew’s offer of marriage is the best that Jane can ever expect in her life and that she has a duty to her impoverished family to accept.  Outside, by the fountain, she and Tom profess their love to each other and pledge that they will try to find a way to make it work.

On the way to visit Jane’s older brother, Edward, Tom invites Jane, Eliza, and Henry to stay with his uncle in London, hoping that Jane will make a good impression, but at dinner, Jane contradicts the Lord Justice on the nature of irony and falls into disfavor. Unable to sleep, Jane begins drafting a new story, First Impressions, which turned out to be the first draft of Pride and Prejudice.  Before Tom can tell his uncle that he wants to marry Jane, the Lord Justice receives a letter informing him that Jane is a penniless husband-hunter.  He turns his back on them and Tom has only one option if he wants to inherit his fortune: he must abandon Jane.

Directed by Julian Jarrold, the movie was filmed almost exclusively in Ireland, with assistance from the Irish Film Board, mostly because Hampshire had become too clean and modernized. It is a beautiful film, no doubt.  The cinematography by Eigil Bryld brings the English countryside to life, even if it was filmed in Ireland.  Trust me, you won’t notice the difference.

The script, drafted by Sarah Williams and finalized by Kevin Hood, was based on a the book, Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence, uses some historical facts, but mashes everything up to create a good romantic film.  The best of it provides terrific glimpses into influences on Austen’s writing, such as Lady Gresham’s remark that there is “a lovely-ish wood” nearby that Jane and Mr. Wisley could walk in or Wisley’s fragmentary remark that “it is a truth universally acknowledged.”  Certainly Lady Gresham bears a striking resemblance to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and there is evidence that she used her own mother and father as models for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.  Jane’s relationship with Cassandra is compared to Lizzie and Jane, but they could also be Elinor and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility.  The bumbling John Warren is very close indeed to Mr. Collins.  All of this is extremely well done, if a trifle obvious in places.  It is a witty and emotional script, very well written.  However, if readers are seriously interested in Jane Austen’s life, I would recommend the biography Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes.  This is an excellent book and is much more factual than the movie.

The acting is first rate, especially the supporting cast. James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Jane’s parents are terrific, as are Maggie Smith, Ian Richardson, and Anna Maxwell Martin.  Helen McCrory is remarkable as Mrs Radcliffe, the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho, whom Jane meets on her stopover in London.

James McAvoy brings a lot of soul to Tom Lefroy, elevating him far beyond the carousing rascal he starts out as, into a man who must carry his own pain with him throughout his life.

Jane Austen Portrait

But the movie is centered around Jane Austen and Anne Hathaway’s performance is critical to the movie’s success. I have read that many English critics have found fault with her English accent and others are affronted by the fact that she is American and not English.  These things did not bother me.  And I found her performance to be very strong and very affecting.  She amused me and moved me and must be accorded as giving a very good performance.  My only issue is personal.  I have a certain view on Jane Austen that has been fostered by my own reading, by my study of her biography, and by the one picture that seems to capture her essence.  I think her weight was an essential part of her character, that her own roundness helped to reveal who she was.  Hathaway is thin, she looks harshly angular and skinny and despite her truly remarkable performance I simply could not accept her as Jane Austen.  Perhaps this is a failing on my part, but I would have much preferred to someone a little closer to Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

anne-hathaway-becoming-jane-GC

I was also a little irked by the historical inaccuracies. For one thing, Jane Austen was incredibly well-read and was certainly familiar with Fielding’s Tom Jones as a classic of the times.  I also found it troublesome that she would consider eloping with Tom Lefroy.  Austen was a girl of her times and would not pull a Lydia Bennet.  Their daft brother, George, was secreted away and the family never saw him, yet here he is included as if they saw him every week.

These are, of course, minor objections in a movie that largely succeeds and makes a worthy addition to film canon of Jane Austen. Everyone who is deeply into Austen should see the film and make up their own minds.  For my part, I liked it in spite of myself.  I was moved by both Jane and Cassandra and I loved their relationship.  It is probably quite close to their real relationship and is very moving.  Overall, I found the movie to very affecting and I must recommend it.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

renee zellweger bridge jonesBased ever so loosely on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this 2001 British romantic comedy directed by Sharon Maguire is full of hits and misses.  The hits are all punches thrown between the two men who seek Bridget’s attention and the misses are all those single women who wish they had a choice between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

Adapted by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis from Fielding’s popular novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger), a single woman in her early thirties looking for love. She works at a publishing house in London, under the direction of Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a real hottie that she’d like to get her hands on.  Over Christmas, her mother tries to set her up with former childhood neighbor Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Get it? Darcy. Firth. Nudge nudge wink wink. Of course, he very aloof and disdainful and she dislikes him immediately.

Right from the beginning, you know it isn’t going to be anything like Pride and Prejudice. Bridget is drunk half the time, smokes constantly, burbling, bumbling, and making a fool out of herself every five minutes. NOT Lizzy Bennet.

Setting her sights on her boss, she begins wearing short skirts and see-through blouses and exchanging flirtatious emails with him. He, of course, responds. When they see Darcy at a party, Daniel tells Bridget that Darcy once stole his fiancée from him. Wickham, eh? They go away for a weekend and there’s that darned Darcy again. On the verge of meeting Bridget’s parents, Daniel abandons her, explaining that he has important work at the office. Not so. He’s actually having an affair with a woman from the New York branch of the publishing company and Bridget finds the woman at his flat.

She dumps him and there is Darcy, immediately interested.

Parts of the movie are quite funny, but most of the humor depends on Bridget’s putting herself in embarrassing situations, which she does over and over. Personally, I don’t care for that kind of humor, just as I don’t care for novels that depend on the stupidity of their protagonists to make a plot. It was hugely popular for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the sophomoric humor and the beautiful people. It didn’t win any major awards, although Zellweger was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award. (It’s funny that British actors routinely play American roles without getting props for how expertly they handle the accent, yet when a Texan plays a Brit everyone makes a big fuss about it. Frankly, I didn’t find it as believable as everyone else. Kind of like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, there was something that just didn’t completely ring true.)

The supporting cast is wonderful. I loved Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s parents. Embeth Davidtz, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, and Lisa Barbuscia are all excellent and add to the fun.

There is one other carry-over from the great BBC Pride and Prejudice besides Colin Firth: the screenwriter for that masterpiece, Andrew Davies, collaborated on the script for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

At 98 minutes, it’s a funny, entertaining evening, without having to exercise the brain at all.

Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen trioThe general fascination with Jane Austen is continued in this 2008 four-part British television film, originally aired by ITV and released in the United States as a three hour film.  Written by Guy Andrews and directed by Dan Zeff, it has the feel of very bad fan fiction cranked out by professionals.  Barely worth 90 minutes of anyone’s time, three hours is far too much for this slim fantasy about a girl who switches places with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

This review contains information about the ending of the movie, so beware.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) is a modern Jane Austen stuck in an unromantic relationship with a boozy, uncouth guy, Michael (Daniel Percival) and living in a flat in Hammersmith with a girlfriend, Pirhana (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). All she really wants is to be left alone so she can immerse herself in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

When she investigates a noise in her bathroom, she discovers none other than Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) who has somehow found a portal in the upstairs of the fictional Bennet cottage and gone to see where it leads, which is 21st Century film reality.  Lizzy is not freaked out at all by joining the 21st Century and invites Amanda to visit the fictional Bennet world.  Once there, Lizzy locks the door, sealing Amanda in the book.  I still cannot process this remarkable change in Elizabeth Bennet.  Such a thing goes completely against the character created by Jane Austen.  When the Bennets discover Amanda, they seem to have no trouble with her arrival and blithely accept that their daughter is in Hammersmith and Amanda is come to visit, wearing a leather jacket.  Magic.  No big deal.

Amanda proceeds to wreak havoc on her favorite novel. Inexplicably, Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) fall in love with Amanda instead of Jane Bennet (Morven Christie).  She struggles to set things right, but things keep getting worse and worse.  And the characters and plot of the book change completely at the writer’s whim.  There is no effort at all to show natural deviations from the novel or the nature of the characters, but the plot is twisted completely so that the writer can effect the action he wants.

In this upside down fantasy world, Jane marries Mr. Collins (Guy Henry), Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan) runs off to Africa to become a missionary, Elizabeth settles into her new life without a second thought as to her family, Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole) is a Lesbian, Mr. Wickham (Tom Riley) is actually a good guy, and ultimately Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) falls in love with Amanda. When the movie ends, Lizzy and Amanda permanently change places so that Amanda can marry Mr. Darcy and Lizzy can continue her new life in reality.

As a Brit might say: Complete rubbish.  Top to bottom.

Lost in this hash are a couple of pretty good performances, most notably by Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennet.

Although the premise is not as bad as it seems, the movie really loses its focus by altering Elizabeth’s character so dramatically. Even as unbelievable as the premise of opening a portal from a fictional book to reality, it still has more believability than seen such a well-known and loved character act in total contradiction to what is known of her.  A better idea would simply have been to drop a modern character into the book as Lizzy Bennet, rather than having them exchange places.  Although that idea might work, it would still require strict adherence to what is already known of the characters, a tenet that Guy Andrews seems to have abandoned anyway.

The key to writing good fantasy is this: reality may be altered as long as the alteration is consistent within itself.  With all of the inconsistencies to Pride and Prejudice present in this movie, one may as well simply attempt to rewrite the novel as one chooses.

On the other hand, if you have no reverence at all for Austen or the novel, you’d may as well lose three hours on a kinky British comedy with no meaning or heart. Enjoy.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride_And_PrejudicePride and Prejudice was the first Jane Austen book I ever read. Picking it up was a part of my ongoing project of reading classics that I skipped in college. Knowing nothing about it, looking at the cover, I thought it might be a novel about upper class England and, although the book does deal with the upper class, it mostly deals with a middle class family.

The Bennet family, consisting of Mr. And Mrs. Bennet and their five girls, Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzy), Mary, Catharine (Kitty), and Lydia live in relative comfort, but without great wealth. However, with no male heirs, their estate has been entailed to a Mr. Collins, so that when Mr. Bennet passes, his wife and daughters will only have a very small amount of money–and no property–for their survival. It is incumbent on the daughters, then, to marry well.

When a Mr. Bingley moves in to the one great estate in the area, Mrs. Bennet is determined that he should marry one of his daughters. The book contains one of the most memorable opening lines of any novel ever written. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Mr. Bingley has brought his good friend, Mr. Darcy, along with him. Possessed of a great fortune and a beautiful estate, Darcy appears cold, distant, and–to Lizzy’s eyes–arrogant. While Mr. Bingley begins an attachment to Jane, Darcy brought to an even lower esteem when a young militia man, Mr. Wickham, tells Lizzy that Darcy did him a great evil in denying him the living that Darcy’s father had promised. Lizzy forms an attachment with Wickham, but Mr. Collins then comes to town with the notion of marrying one of the Bennet girls and keeping the property in the family.  When he proposes to Lizzy, however, she bluntly turns him down, so he instead marries her friend Charlotte Lucas.

Mr. Darcy, seeing what is going on between Bingley and Jane, urges his friend to retire to London, so the whole party packs up and leaves. Jane is sent to London to stay with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, in the hope of reuniting with Bingley.  In the meantime, Lizzy goes to visit Charlotte and meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt. When he shows up for a visit, he seeks out Lizzy and blunders out a proposal that takes her completely by surprise.  Angry at his actions–destroying her sister’s chance of happiness and Mr. Wickham’s hopes of fortune–she refuses him in a very emotional scene.

Of course, Mr. Wickham had lied about their past association.

The twin subjects of pride and prejudice are fully examined, not only in the characters of Lizzy and Darcy, but in the supporting characters as well. All of Lizzy’s actions throughout the first part of the book are based on a quickly formed prejudice. Mr. Darcy’s apparent pride is actually a difficulty in dealing with new acquaintances.  The same prejudice that put Mr. Darcy into a dim light also promoted the character of Wickham, who was actually a pretty bad person.  Mrs. Bennet certainly feels a great deal of false pride, having no idea how ridiculous she actually is.  Pride also appears in the form of Mr. Collins, whose obsequious fawning on Lady Catherine de Bourgh is both funny and insightful.

Almost lost in this circus of pride and prejudice is the amazing change that comes over Mr. Darcy after Lizzy rejects him. When she points out to him his own pride, it shakes him up so much that it causes a complete alteration of his character, partly because he didn’t see himself clearly before and partly because Elizabeth thinks these terrible things about him. After Elizabeth receives his letter, she is forced to reevaluate her own thinking and ultimately realizes her own prejudice.

The book is essentially a romantic comedy, but it touches on so many different aspects of English society at the beginning of the 19th Century that it ends up having a lot to say, without ever coming across as preachy. In dealing with such issues as women’s place in society, the economic structure of England, class relations, and child rearing, it reaches a very high level of storytelling, layering in themes far deeper than one would imagine in a romantic comedy.  It remains one of the most influential novels ever written and has spawned numerous films, clubs, and so on.

A wonderful novel! I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice to all readers!

Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.


Isaac Asimov

Foundation


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories


Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre


Truman Capote

In Cold Blood


Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game


Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth


Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games


Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful


Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time


Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer


John Fowles

The Collector


Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust


Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn


Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards


Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You


Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea


Jack Kerouac

On The Road


Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams


Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz


Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird


Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is


Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern

Dragonsdawn

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

Dragonflight

Dragonquest

The White Dragon


The Harper Hall Trilogy

Dragonsong

Dragonsinger

Dragondrums


The Renegades of Pern


All the Weyrs of Pern


Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God

Deepsix

Chindi

 

 

Austenland

Austenland PictureAustenland is a movie whose premise holds great promise, but is ultimately disappointing.

Released in 2013, this movie is based on a novel of the same name by Shannon Hale. The film was written by Hale and director by Jerusha Hess. Sadly, both of these creators made some very serious errors in planning this movie.

I haven’t read the book, so it is impossible for me to gauge whether they screwed it up or if it is faithful and the novel simply failed on its own.

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland where fans can dress like their favorite characters and act out with British actors hired to emulate such heroes as Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Even her life savings however does not qualify her for anything more than the “copper package” that gives her a tiny room and a disfavored status among the other tourists.

On the way there, she meets a rich and rather stupid American woman who introduces herself as Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and they travel together. The resort is run by a lady named Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) who has a great disdain for those who bought the cheap plan, the only one of which on this trip is Jane.

Making friends with the groundskeeper/chauffer Martin (Bret McKenzie), she find it tough sledding with the men who play the aristocrats, notably Mr. Heny Nobly (JJ Field) and Colonel Andrews (James Callis). One can guess what happens.  Most of the men fall for Jane while she is making out with Martin.  There are all sorts of hijinks that are supposed to be funny and in the end, she discovers that Martin himself was only an actor, paid to have a romance with her.  Both Martin and Mr. Nobly meet her at the airport on her way home and she rejects them both.

Any serious Jane Austen fan will find that this movie missed the mark in many, many ways.  I really like Keri Russell and I’ve got to say she was more or less wasted in this effort. The script needed to be much more heavy on Jane Austen and less concentrated on trying to be funny.  It could have incorporated a great deal from each of the books and been really funny and witty, but instead, it concentrates on the people playing the parts and one opportunity after another is passed by.  I detest movies that beg for laughs and fits that category.

 If you have an hour and a half to fill, this will keep you entertained, but it falls far short of its potential.