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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

It has been pretty quiet on the blog for the last two months or so, as everything from a very busy year caught up with me! Unfortunately life has the tendency to do that some times, and it seems to happen most often at Christmas time.

On the subject of Christmas, one of my presents this year from my long-suffering husband was the mini-series Lost in Austen. I remember seeing some of it on TV a few years ago, but I felt so upset to see the storyline all mixed up that I couldn’t bear to watch it all. It must have just been a stage I was going through at the time, because this year I decided to put it on my present list!

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in Lost in Austen (2008).

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in Lost in Austen (2008).

The story centres around a young lady, Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper), who lives in Hammersmith, London. She has a passion for Jane Austen and, in particularly, for the book Pride and Prejudice. On one rather peculiar day she discovers Miss Elizabeth Bennet standing rather awkwardly in her bath. This elegant regency lass had found a secret doorway leading from her attic in 1813 to Miss Price’s modern day bathroom. But after Amanda steps through the doorway to check it out, it slams shut leaving Miss Bennet behind to navigate a world of mobile phones, electrical appliances, and speeding vehicles.

Lost in Austen (2008)

In the bathroom in Lost in Austen (2008)

Poor Miss Price is likewise in a dilemma! Not only is she locked in a world that she does not belong to, she is quick to realise that the events from her favourite novel are about to radically change without Elizabeth Bennet present. And how devastating would it be for an Austen fan to realise that they were the means by which a perfect storyline could be forever destroyed?

What follows is a series of blunders as Amanda desperately tries to orchestrate the meetings of those characters who need to meet, and similarly attempts to prevent some characters from getting too close. Mr Bingley and Jane, Mr Collins and Charlotte, and NOT Mr Wickham and Lydia. She even resorts to convincing them of the affection which they should hold towards each other.

When you stop to think about it, losing the main character from any story would quite naturally radically change it, and the loss of Elizabeth is no exception. Suddenly, Bingley is attracted to Miss Amanda Price instead of Miss Jane Bennet; Jane then has no reason not to think of matrimony with Mr Collins; Charlotte Lucas is promptly left “on the shelf”; Bingley is heartbroken when the fair Jane slips through his fingers; and so it continues. The ravages that occur to a storyline when its main character is unavoidably absent!

Here that sound? That’s Jane Austen spinning in her grave like a cat in a tumble dryer.

The worst thing about this movie is that I didn’t know how it would end. (And that is just-a-little hang-up of mine… I really don’t like not knowing the ending! That is probably the reason why I enjoy movies based on historical novels… movie producers don’t tend to change the ending of a classic storyline, how ever much they meddle with the middle bits.) It felt awful to see the storyline reduced to a shambles! Charlotte Lucas deciding to be a missionary, Jane Bennet miserably unhappy, and no one to tempt Mr Darcy to get off his high horse so he can pollute the shades of Pemberley. Something deep inside me still insisted that the story should somehow have a happy ending, regardless of the cyclonic trail of demolition that had wreaked its havoc. And somehow – against all the odds – it did!

One of the things I did like about this movie is that the theme within the novel – that of Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice – still flows through the movie and its characters despite the altered storyline. Darcy is still proud, and he still comes to regret his pride. The only alteration is that of Amanda’s prejudice, that she is initially convinced she should love Mr Darcy but instead finds him unbearable.

If I dream about him tonight, I shall be really angry! I am going to dream about him. Well, in my dream I hope you choke! Hateful man.

Overall, I found this movie funny and lighthearted. It is always interesting (and amusing) to imagine what sort of mess would happen when modern life has a mid-air collision with Regency times. And this movie is precisely a depiction of what you could expect!

Related Posts

Every Savage Can Dance!

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood

Sources and Relevant Links

Lost in Austen (2008) – the mini-series

Image Source: Penny for your Dreams (This blog post is a great summary of the storyline for the first episode.)

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In my first post in this series, I looked at the movies Becoming Jane (2007) and Miss Austen Regrets (2008) and began to explore the ways in which these movies are historically accurate. In my second post, I elaborated on the known details of a number of suitors that were attracted to Jane Austen during her life, and discussed the likelihood of Jane having “her very own love story”. In this post, I am examining the likely career prospects that Jane Austen could have had (if she had lived longer) when compared to other female writers of her era.

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen.

Jane’s Career Prospects

In Regency society, career options for gentlewomen were few. Lower classes of women generally had more options for earning money, but Jane Austen was a member of the gentry, traditionally country landowners. Men and women of the gentry generally lived off the income from their land or investments, and whilst younger sons of the gentry were required to have a career to supplement their income, the women were not expected to work for money.

Unmarried women of the gentry would be supported by their fathers and, upon their father’s death, their father’s estate or their brothers would provide them with income. Unmarried women from richer families could also inherit funds or property that would provide them with an independent source of income. (It is this reason that Emma (from Emma, by Jane Austen) could reasonably decide that she had no wish to marry, as she would have had an independent source of income from her father’s estate upon his death.)

However, upon marriage any property would generally transfer to the husband. Married women could still keep property or funds given to them in a trust or specifically for their own use, but they needed their husband’s consent to dispose of it. Often the fathers of these women would work into a marriage agreement that the woman’s inherited property was for her use alone, limiting the husband’s automatic rights to ownership. However, a married woman (by law) did not have exclusive rights to her own wages, that is if she was in a position to earn any.

Rather than being concerned with earning money, women of the gentry generally did other things with their time. They ran their household, cared for the poor or sick living within their area, completed handiwork such as embroidery, and developed their musical accomplishments. There were women who sought more active employment within their sphere of influence, such as Jane Austen’s friend, Mrs Lefroy, who taught the local poor children to read.

Many women of both the eighteenth century and Regency periods expressed concern that there was not adequate education for girls and women. I have also read the personal accounts of women who frequently felt disempowered to make any real difference in the world because they lacked the opportunities to do so. However, women of the gentry during the eighteenth century and Regency times did not view careers for earning money in the same way it is viewed today, that is, as a way of becoming financially independent and of developing a sense of self outside of domestic duties.

Jane Austen is represented in both Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets as being quite concerned with poverty and her family’s lack of money, even to the point that she feels pressure to provide for them. She is also portrayed as having a strong desire to cultivate a career for herself. When the historical background of the Regency era is taken into account, as well as the voice of Jane in her own letters, I have wondered if the modern representations of Jane Austen in movies are at odds with this evidence.

Would Jane have felt pressure to provide for her mother and sister?

As the youngest child of eight, and a daughter, it is unlikely that Jane should have been expected to provide for her mother and sister after her father’s death. After Mr Austen died, the Austen brothers rallied together to help their mother and unmarried sisters with a supplemented income. The brothers managed to increase the income from 210 pounds to 460 pounds a year. Whilst this was still a smaller income than the women were used to, and it required them to move from Bath to cheaper lodgings in Southhampton, it was still enough for them to keep a servant.

Did Jane Austen want to be famous?

Early in her life, Jane appears to have written for the enjoyment of herself, her family and her closest friends. Her first attempts at publication were at the encouragement of her father, and she remained quite obsessive in her secrecy about her writing throughout her life. She published her books anonymously (which was common for women authors of this period), instead attributing the authorship to “A Lady”, and some of her own nieces and nephews were unaware of the true author when her first books were published.

Once her brother Henry dropped the secret and her name became more widely known, she still persisted in her reluctance to attend functions where she might meet other influential literary people. She seemed to consistently deny all appearances of fame that people tried to put upon her, even refusing an invitation to a party to meet the famous authoress, Madame Germaine Da Stael. From these instances, as well as her own letters, she did not seem to write particularly to achieve fame.

Could Jane Austen have made her fortune in the career of an authoress?

Jane Austen made 140 pounds from the publication of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, and her total earnings from her writing was 684 pounds at the end of her life. Whilst her six novels were all published within seven years (1811-1818), most of them had been started much earlier in her life and had undergone a long process of revision. Even if she had continued to write a novel every year from then onwards, she would have struggled to produce a very large fortune by her pen.

Looking at other female authors of the time, monetary compensation for a writing career was generally low when you consider what sort of income a member of the gentry considered appropriate to live on. In addition, both male and female writers usually did not merely live by the income made from writing novels. They often had other forms of income in the form of royal pensions, earnings from investments or estates, or other forms of writing such as literary reviews or submissions to journals or magazines.

At this point, it is interesting to examine the careers of other female authors during the time of Austen, compiled in the table below. I have only included women writers who wrote in the fiction genre (the newly emerging novel form), as Jane Austen did. There were, of course, other women during this era who were influential in writing other forms of material, such as educational pamphlets and conduct literature.

Copyright Kelly Lock. Disclaimer: This information was compiled using limited web-based research. Any inaccuracies will be amended once discovered.

Copyright: Tea in a Teacup. Disclaimer: This information was compiled using limited web-based research. As there is often not enough available information on the particular earnings of authors, I have included as much information regarding earnings as I could accurately discover. Any inaccuracies will be amended once discovered.

By this rather brief and simplistic comparison, one could conclude that Jane Austen was underpaid when compared to several of her contemporaries. It has been suggested by others that, by leaving the financial negotiations to her father and brother, she may have unwittingly limited her income because they were unskilled at such negotiations. It is unclear how she could have combated this though, as Charlotte Turner Smith managed all her own negotiations with her publishers and still struggled to enhance her financial position.

One significant difference between Jane Austen and other women writers of her time is that most of the other women actively sought patronage from notable peers known to them or their families, sometimes even asking permission for their works to be dedicated to them. Most of the women listed in the table also moved actively in literary circles, often getting to know other famous authors such as Dr Samuel Johnson, Sir Walter Scott, and Hester Thrale, and other female authors. Whilst Jane Austen was not interested in actively promoting herself in literary circles, she did manage to attract the patronage of the Prince Regent who offered her “permission to ask for permission” to dedicate Emma to him, which she seemed to do fairly reluctantly and only after advice from her family. 

Even if Jane Austen could have managed to overcome some of these differences, it is probably still inaccurate to say that she could have made her fortune by writing novels. Whilst she had several unfinished manuscripts in progress when she died (The Watsons and Sanditon) as well as an unpublished epistolary novel (Lady Susan), she still may not have been able to produce a novel every year, especially considering her previous propensity to spend much time revising and perfecting her work. This natural restriction of time frame would – itself – have limited her income.

In order to live comfortably as an English gentleman or lady, it was desirable to have at least 300 pounds per annum for each individual within the family unit, equating to roughly the annual interest on 6,000 pounds. Unless Jane Austen could save that amount for herself (as well as for her mother and sister), there would have been little hope that she could have lived in such a comfortable situation once she eventually stopped writing later in life. Indeed, many of the women who, by necessity, had lived solely on the proceeds from their writing ended their lives in poverty as their writing income dried up.

So, whilst Jane Austen would have certainly made more money from writing more novels if she had lived longer, and she could well have been able to better negotiate her earnings with her publishers, seek out some form of patronage and promote herself in literary circles, it still seems unlikely that she could have lived a comfortable life as a member of the gentry purely on the earnings of writing her novels.

Was Jane Austen a meek and mild, content-to-be-at-home, aunt?

I have read criticism of the popular conception of “Aunt Jane” as a “meek and mild”, family-focused woman who refrained from devoting herself fully to her writing in favour of availing herself to her nieces, nephews, and other family members. Certainly, from reading her letters I never had this impression of her!

Portrait of Jane Austen (1775-1817)

The Victorian version of Cassandra’s portrait of her sister Jane, published in James Austen-Leigh’s Memoirs (1869).

It appears that this picture of Jane Austen could have come from her portrayal to the public during the Victorian era, probably because Austen’s Victorian relations wanted their “dear Aunt” to appear as their version of a “proper” woman, or a woman that deserved their Victorian esteem. In this way, the Victorian perspective of Jane Austen may not be accurate.

However, it is just as dangerous for us – as people wedged firmly in the 21st Century – that we not assume that Jane was just like us! That she wanted to have a career because she wanted to be independent. Or that she wanted to fall in love and elope. Or even that she held feminist ideals before her time. If we do this, we could be accused of painting that same sort of inaccurate picture that we accuse the Victorians of doing! That is, painting a picture of Jane Austen that does not accurately represent who she was in the context of the time she lived.

Biographer David Cecil expresses it well when he says:

I have come across critics who discuss [Jane Austen] and her view of life and character as if they were those of a contemporary of their own. The result is a portrait comically misleading. For, as we should have learned both from social historians and common observation, we are all largely the creatures of the world we happen to have been born into and our outlook is conditioned by its assumptions and beliefs and conventions and customs.

In summary, whilst I enjoy movies depicting Jane Austen’s life, I do find it problematic when they are not historically accurate. Sometimes modern movies tend embellish these historical characters with values that we – as modern men and women – think are important, particularly in the area of the rights of women. In essence, these movies could sometimes say more about our own 21st Century ideals than they say about the reality of Jane Austen, her perspective and her life.

Related Posts

Jane Austen. Who? – Part 2

Aunt Jane!? An Author!?

A Happy New Year – letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Cassy

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – Amazon

Becoming Jane (2007) – the movie

Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence – by AustenBlog

Fact and Fiction in Becoming Jane – by Following Austen

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) – the movie

Miss Austen Regrets: How Jane lost her own Darcy – an article by The Independant (April 2008)

Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne’s edition – read online

Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh – read online

Women and Literature in Britain: 1800-1900, edited by Joanne Shattock – buy through Booktopia

Pride and Prejudice Economics – by Jane Austen’s World

Other Jane Austen Biographies

Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin

Jane Austen: A Life, by Carol Sheilds

Jane Austen: A Family Record, by Deirdre La Faye

Jane Austen: A Biography, by Elizabeth Jenkins

The Life of Jane Austen, by John Halperin

Jane Austen: Her Life, by Park Honan

Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes

Jane Austen in Context (a collection of essays), edited by Janet Todd

Becoming Jane Austen, by Jon Spence

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In my previous post about Jane Austen, I looked at the movies Becoming Jane (2007) and Miss Austen Regrets (2008) and questioned how historically accurate they were. There are obvious discrepancies taken in the name of artistic licence, such as the names and situations of her suitors, but there are also more subtle differences, like the more modern representations of her attitudes towards having a career.

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

The best way to get a sense of who a person was – short of talking to them yourself – is to read what they have written. Obviously reading more personal accounts, such as journals and personal letters, allows you to see the person in the way they saw themselves. Their other writings, such as novels, poetry, and published pamphlets or articles, also give a sense of their voice and an idea of what interested them. Reading other people’s first-hand accounts give a sense of how other people perceived this person. Biographies, although a secondary source of information, are valuable in giving a sense of the circumstances and background of the person’s life. So it is in these places that I have sought information on the realities of Jane’s life.

Jane’s Suitors

Thomas Lefroy (years lived)

Thomas Lefroy (1776-1869)

Jane did meet Tom Lefroy in 1795 while she was still living at Steventon, aged 20, and mentions him in her letters to Cassandra. However, there is little evidence that marriage between them was ever seriously contemplated.

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved, Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking the the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs Lefroy a few days ago.

9 January, 1796.

John Warren (1771-1831), who proposed to Jane in Becoming Jane, was at Oxford at the same time as James Austen. He also became a pupil of Jane’s father, George Austen. Mr Warren and Jane were always good friends and he was occasionally mentioned in her letters. The following excerpt was written immediately after the above quote regarding Tom Lefroy, in the same letter to her sister.

We left Warren at Dean Gate, in our way home last night, and he is now on his road to town. He left his love, &c., to you, and I will deliver it when we meet. Henry goes to Harden to-day in his way to his Master’s degree. We shall feel the loss of these two most agreeable young men exceedingly, and shall have nothing to console us till the arrival of the Coopers on Tuesday.

9 January, 1796.

Samuel Blackall met Jane in 1798 while visiting the Lefroy’s and soon became an admirer of her. He had intended to visit again at Christmas but upon his return to Cambridge, where he was a Fellow, he discovered that he was not in a position to marry at present, and wrote to Mrs Lefroy to tell her so. In any event, his admiration does not appear to be returned by Jane.

She [Mrs Lefroy] showed me a letter which she had received from her friend a few weeks ago (in answer to one written by her to recommend a nephew of Mrs Russell to his notice at Cambridge), towards the end of which was a sentence to this effect: ‘I am very sorry to hear of Mrs Austen’s illness. It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving myself with that family – with a hope of creating to myself nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it.’

Jane then goes on to comment on this to her sister:

This is rational enough; there is less love and more sense in it that sometimes appears before, and I am well satisfied. It will all go on exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner. There seems no likelihood of his coming into Hampshire this Christmas, and it is therefore most probable that our indifference will soon be mutual, unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first, is best supported by never seeing him.

17 November, 1798.

There was one mysterious love interest that occurred in 1801, while Jane’s family was on a visit to Sidmouth from their new home in Bath. We only know this by a few scant remarks that Cassandra had made to several of her nieces and nephews later in her life. Biographer David Cecil goes into some detail about the incident. This man was handsome, intelligent and quite charming, and became quite attached to Jane over the two or three weeks that he was in town. Unfortunately, the gentleman was forced to leave on account of some business and it was understood that he would return soon to see the Austen family again. Before he could do so, the Austen’s received a letter from his brother saying that he had suddenly died. There are very few letters of Jane’s that survive from May 1801 to 1805, which leaves this period of her life quite blank.

Harris Bigg-Wither (1781-1833)

Harris Bigg-Wither (1781-1833)

In 1802, Jane was proposed to by Harris Bigg-Wither, when she was aged 27, on a visit to the family with her sister. She accepted the offer, but then withdrew it the next morning and hurriedly left with her sister to return to Bath. Biographer David Cecil suggests that her reluctance to marry Harris Bigg-Wither might be related to the brief but strong affection she felt for the Sidmouth man.

In 1808, upon a visit to Godmersham, it appears possible that Mr Edward Bridges (1779-1825), made her an offer of marriage. She makes a curious mention of it in a letter to Cassandra, which has led Deirdre LaFaye – an Austen expert – to suggest that it is possible that he did make her an offer, but that she refused.

I wish you may be able to accept Lady Bridges’ invitation, though I could not her son Edward’s; she is a nice woman and honours me by her remembrance.

October 7, 1808.

One thing I can say for certain about Jane and her view of marriage is that she was well aware of the advantages of having money upon marrying. However, she also seemed firm in her views that a marriage without affection was as equally undesirable as one without money. She gave some very pertinent advice to her young niece Fanny in one of her letters, about her suitor Mr Plumtre.

There are such beings in the World perhaps, one in a Thousand, as the Creature You and I should think perfection. Where Grace and Spirit are united to Worth, where the Manners are equal to the Heart and Understanding. But such a person may not come in your way, or if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a Man of Fortune, the brother of your particular friend, and belonging to your own country. Think of this Fanny. Mr J.P. has advantages which do not often meet in one person. […] And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself further, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection…

18 November, 1814.

When I first discovered, early in my “Austen education”, that Jane Austen had never married, I remember being shocked! It seemed unthinkable that a person who could write such moving stories about life and love – stories that have stood the test of time and have charmed people born long after her death – never had her own love story.

Even though Jane never married, it is clear that she had a variety of experiences in her relationships with marriageable men; some consisted of mutual friendship, others mere attraction and flirtation, at least one with a more financial allure, and possibly one with a deeper affection that Regency women regarded as a foundation for marriage.

Whilst this tendency to want Jane Austen to have had a love story of her own is understandable, it is possible that this modern appetite for love and romance may cloud our perception of the realities in Jane’s life. It can prevent us understanding the way a Regency woman would perceive her own situation of singleness within the context of her own time.

As someone who is interested in history, I tend to find it more interesting to try to understand this historical context of a person rather than merely watch an entertaining movie about them. Actually, this interest has often driven me from the movie theatre to the nearest bookshop in search of more information – which I can then devour over a cup of tea!

Due to space, I have decided to make a Part 3 to this post which will endeavour to explore the realities of Jane’s career prospects as a female author in the Regency era.

Related Posts

Jane Austen. Who? – Part 1

Aunt Jane!? An Author!?

A Happy New Year – letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Cassy

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen – a book review

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – Amazon

Becoming Jane (2007) – the movie

Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence – by AustenBlog

The Truth about Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy – by Following Austen

Fact and Fiction in Becoming Jane – by Following Austen

John Warren at the Dean Gate Inn – by Austenonly

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) – the movie

Miss Austen Regrets: How Jane lost her own Darcy – an article by The Independant (April 2008)

Miss Austen Regrets: Brook Edward Bridges – by Jane Austen Society of North America

Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne’s edition – read online

Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh – read online

Other Jane Austen Biographies (and there are many more!)

Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin – buy through Amazon

The Life of Jane Austen, by John Halperin – buy through Amazon

Jane Austen The Woman: Some Biographical Insights, by George Holbert Tucker – buy through Amazon

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There seems to have always been a remarkable interest in who Jane Austen was, from the very moment the authorship of her novels was revealed. This interest extended into the Victorian era when her letters and other unpublished novels were made available to the public. Even now, Jane Austen has an ever-growing army of dedicated fans who avidly devour new movie adaptations and “new sequels” of the Austen novels, as well as movies about Jane’s life itself. Recently I have had the opportunity to watch some movie portrayals of the famous Regency authoress.

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen, in Becoming Jane (2007).

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen, in Becoming Jane (2007).

Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane (2007) is loosely based on the speculative biography Becoming Jane Austen, by Jon Spence. It focuses on the life of Jane Austen during her years living at Steventon, before her family moved to Bath. Starring Anne Hathaway as the 20-year-old Jane, the movie shows the close relationship she has with her sister, Cassandra, and her family.

The movie focuses on the period of Jane Austen’s life when most young women of her time would have been looking for a husband. She meets Mr Tom Lefroy at a family party and strikes up an emotionally charged friendship, despite the initial conflict of his rudeness. They fall in love but realise the impossibility of their union unless they can convince his uncle to agree, as Tom is wholly dependant on his uncle for money and career connections. They end up eloping but Jane suddenly decides en route that their love would not survive their eventual poverty and goes back home.

In addition to Tom Lefroy, Jane is also pursued by a (fictional), Mr Wisely, who is the nephew and heir of rich Lady Gresham. She also has a third proposal from Mr John Warren at the conclusion of the movie.

Jane’s family prefer the match with Mr Wisely, as the marriage will provide their daughter with money and security. As she does not have much dowry, attracting a husband who is not already rich will be difficult for her. Jane talks frequently of her hopes of making her fortune by her pen, rather than by marriage, however her family – whilst they encourage her writing – seem to be skeptical about this.

I remember really liking this movie when it was first released, thinking that it seemed to portray the vivaciousness and wittiness that I believed was accurate to the author’s voice in her novels. It also seemed to cleverly link some of the everyday occasions in Jane’s life to the events in her novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, thus illustrating the ways in which she could have gleaned inspiration from her life. Unfortunately, as I began to research Jane Austen’s life in more detail it became apparent (and irritatingly annoying) that Becoming Jane was almost completely fiction!

Olivia as Jane Austen, in Miss Austen Regrets (2008).

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen, in Miss Austen Regrets (2008).

Miss Austen Regrets

I have also recently seen the movie Miss Austen Regrets (2008), starring Olivia Williams, which follows Jane’s later life as a much-loved spinster aunt and burgeoning author when she lived at Chawton Cottage.

This portrayal sees Jane spending time with her niece Fanny (daughter of her brother, Edward Knight) as she tries to decide whether or not to marry a charming Mr Plumtree. Jane uses her previous experiences in love and life to help guide her young niece in her decision.

The movie focuses on the fact that Jane remained unmarried and was poorer than she might have been if she had chosen to marry. Jane is made to feel responsible for not furthering the family fortunes when she refused to marry Harris Bigg in her earlier years, and maybe it is for this reason that she is preoccupied about writing for money in order to provide for her mother and sister.

The other love interest featured in this movie is that of Reverend Edward Bridges, who was the brother-in-law to Jane’s brother, Edward Knight. According to the screenplay, he had proposed to Jane several years earlier and been refused and had then married a Miss Harriet Foote. As could be expected, their conversations are peppered with the what-if’s and the could-have-been’s that one naturally has when considering what could have happened if a different decision had been made.

Whilst this movie is fairly soundly based on the letters of Jane Austen that were written between 1813 and 1815, the portrayal of Jane as a character seems markedly more melancholy and regretful than her letters indicate her to be. In fact, her conversations often bordered on being bitter and her relationship with her sister seemed equally strained. I found it hard to imagine that Jane could be like this after reading her letters.

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

So just who was Jane Austen?

Whilst I enjoyed both of these movies in different ways, I was initially puzzled as to why these portrayals of Jane Austen did not match up with the sort of person I had experienced through reading her personal letters.

One thing that bothered me was that these depictions of Jane seemed to be overly modern in terms of ideology. It was almost as though we, as a 21st century world, had infused our own more modern feminist ideologies on this Regency woman, such as the desire to have a career, to earn an independent living, and to marry for love. Whilst these modern ideals are important to the women of today, it is probably not accurate to suggest that the same ideals are ones that Regency women – or Jane in particular – aspired to, at least not in the same way that modern women value them.

However, it could be more simple than that. It could be more to do with movie producers generating a bottom dollar by striving to make a screenplay acceptable to a modern audience, regardless of whether the resulting movie is accurate in its depiction of a historical figure. This makes sense really. These days movies need to have a good storyline with maybe some action or romance to help them attract interest and make money in the box office. In short, the content of a movie (historical or otherwise) needs to meet the ideals and expectations of a modern audience. It is possible that a truly accurate portrayal of Jane Austen might be just too boring for us all to watch!? Heaven forbid, but that could be true!

What are your reflections on these movies? Do they fit with your picture of who Jane Austen was? Do you prefer a historical accurate film or one with a good storyline?

In my next post on this topic, I will attempt to examine some of the realities of Jane’s life, including the men who featured in her life as possible suitors. I will also explore some of the ways in which our modern ideologies may have affected our view of who Jane Austen was. For instance, is it accurate to suggest that she wanted to have a career or that she wanted to be famous, and is it realistic to assume that she could have become rich?

Related Posts

Aunt Jane!? An Author!?

Christmas with Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a book review

Lady Susan: an eighteenth century epistolary novella – a book review

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – Amazon

Becoming Jane (2007) – the movie

Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence – by AustenBlog

The Truth about Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy – by Following Austen

Fact and Fiction in Becoming Jane – by Following Austen

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) – the movie

Miss Austen Regrets: How Jane lost her own Darcy – an article by The Independant (April 2008)

Miss Austen Regrets: Brook Edward Bridges – by Jane Austen Society of North America

Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne’s edition – read online

Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh – read online

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What would you do if you found out your very own Aunt Jane was the famous author of Sense and Sensibility?

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

Jane Austen was a very private person and throughout her career as an author she seemed to shrink from the personal acclamation that arose from the publication of her novels. Whilst her literary pursuits had always been celebrated within her immediate family circle by being read, performed and discussed, very few of her friends read her novels in their draft form.

Her first publication seemed to be a great secret; Sense and Sensibility, a novel, By A Lady, was published in 1811. Her immediate family did know of the pending publication; her brother, Henry, had acted on her behalf with the publishers, and her mother and sister were left at Chawton while Jane went to London to read the proofs before the novel’s publication. But Jane did not tell her niece, Anna, aged 18 at the time and to whom she was close. David Cecil, in his biography, relates an incident where Aunt Jane and Anna were perusing books together in the library:

…the two of them, looking at the novels in the Alton Circulating Library, saw Sense and Sensibility lying on the counter. Anna picked up the first volume. ‘It must be nonsense with a title like that’, she said and put it back again. Jane watched her amused and silent.

Jane had always expressed her desire to remain an anonymous writer and so was quite dismayed when her brother Henry spilled the secret to some acquaintances in 1813, concerning the author of the newly published Pride and Prejudice.

In 1814 Mansfield Park was published, and it was sometime in this year that Jane’s nephew, Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh), son of James Austen, discovered that his Aunt Jane was a famous author. He was only sixteen at the time and, on finding out the truth, wrote the following poem to his Aunt.

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed through the whole of the nation.
I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad;
Oh dear, just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That dear Mrs Jennings’ good-natured strain
Was really the produce of your witty brain,
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr Collins so grateful for all
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear patroness call, 
‘Tis to your ingenuity really he owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.
Now if you will take your poor nephew’s advice, 
Your works to Sir William pray send in a trice;
If he’ll undertake to some grandees to show it,
By whose means at last the Prince Regent might know it,
For I’m sure if he did, in reward for your tale,
He’d make you a countess at least without fail,
And indeed, if the princess should lose her dear life,
You might have a good chance of becoming his wife.

By Edward Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen’s nephew.

By 1815 many people had discovered the name of the famous authoress, even the Prince Regent. Instead of making her a countess, as Edward Austen had suggested he should, the Prince invited her to ask his permission to dedicate her next novel, Emma, to him. She did so, more because she did not wish to cause offence to such an august person than because she was delighted by the idea.

Her last two novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, were published posthumously in 1818. Her brother, Henry, wrote a biographical notice in the preface, announcing Jane Austen to be the author of these works and sharing with her readers some of the history of her life and her last moments on earth. He also mentioned her particular aversion of publicity.

Most gratifying to her was the applause which from time to time reached her ears from those who were competent to discriminate. Still, in spite of such applause, so much did she shrink from notoriety, that no accumulation of fame would have induced her, had she lived, to affix her name to any productions of her pen. In the bosom of her own family she talked of them freely, thankful for praise, open to remark, and submissive to criticism. But in public she turned away from any allusion to the character of an authoress.

In short, she wrote for the pleasure of entertaining her family and friends, rather than the public acclamation that comes with publication. So what would you do if you discovered your own Aunt Jane to be a famous authoress?

Related Posts

Christmas with Jane Austen

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – buy on Amazon

The Letters of Jane Austen, the Brabourne edition – read online

Biographical Notice of the Author, by Henry Austen – read online

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I happened upon a letter written by Jane Austen in 1817 to her niece Cassandra, daughter of her brother Charles. This particular Cassandra Austen was born in 1808, so would have only been about nine when receiving this letter. The “little Cassy” mentioned in the letter was probably Cassandra Austen, born to Jane Austen’s brother Francis, in 1814.

I thought it appropriate for the New Year, and – since I am away on holidays – a quick and easy post for your entertainment. It is written in a simple code, with the letters of each word backwards.

YM RAED YSSAC,

I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey. Ruoy xis snisuoc emac ereh yadretsey, dna dah hcae a eceip fo ekac. Siht si elttil Yssac’s yadhtrib, dna ehs si eerht sraey dlo. Knarf sah nugeb gninrael Nital. Ew deef eht Nibor yreve gninrom. Yllas netfo seriuqne retfa uoy. Yllas Mahneb sah tog a wen neerg nwog. Teirrah Thgink semoc yreve yad ot daer ot Tnua Ardnassac. Doog eyb, ym raed Yssac.

Tnua Ardnassac sdnes reh tseb evol, dna os ew od lla.

fireworksRouy etanoitceffa Tnua, ENAJ NETSUA.

Notwahc: Naj. 8.

Happy New Year to you all!

Relevant Posts

Christmas with Jane Austen

Sources and Relevant Links

The Letters of Jane Austen – read online

Translation:

MY DEAR CASSY,

I wish you a happy new year. Your six cousins came here yesterday, and had each a piece of cake. This is little Cassy’s birthday, and she is three years old. Frank has begun learning Latin. We feed the Ribon every morning. Sally often enquires after you. Sally Benham has got a new green gown. Harriet Knight comes every day to read to Aunt Cassandra. Good bye, my dear Cassy.

Aunt Cassandra sends her best love, and so we do all.

Your affectionate Aunt, JANE AUSTEN.

Chawton: Jan. 8.

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A Regency Christmas

A Regency Christmas

In order to celebrate Christmas this year, I thought I might share with you a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, written on Christmas Day in 1798.

On this particular Christmas, Cassandra was on a visit to Godmersham Park in Kent. It was this property that her brother, Edward Austen, had lived in after being adopted by Mr and Mrs Thomas Knight, who had no children. Edward had inherited this property when Thomas Knight died in 1794.

I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible. I am full of joy at much of your information; that you should have been to a ball, and have danced at it, and supped with the Prince, and that you should meditate the purchase of a new muslin gown, are delightful circumstances. I am determined to buy a handsome one whenever I can, and I am so tired and ashamed of half of my present stock, that I even blush at the sight of the wardrobe which contains them. But I will not be much longer libelled by the possession of my coarse spot; I shall turn it into a petticoat very soon. I wish you a merry Christmas, but no compliments of the season.

Jane does not tend to describe much about the Christmas celebrations in which her family were involved, which probably indicates more about the lack of interest Cassandra would have in such descriptions, as Jane seems to focus more on news items that are of interest to her sister in her correspondence. The thing about Jane Austen’s letters is that they (at least those that survive) are lighthearted and humorous in a very similar way to her novels. They also demonstrate the very close relationship she had with her sister.

Wishing you and your families a very merry Christmas for 2012 and a happy and exciting New Year for 2013!

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Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

A Happy New Year

Sources and Relevant Links

The Letters of Jane Austen – read online

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