As a lover of both books and film, I decided to write a post dedicated to films about writers each month. For the first post of the series, I picked a film about one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen. Becoming Jane is based on Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence which reveals a secret romance between Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) and a young law student, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), and the influence of that experience on Jane Austen’s writing.
This scene shows Jane Austen’s basic philosophy on writing. For Jane Austen, writing is an escape from the mundane aspects of her life. However, as Tom points out, she lacks the experience outside her sphere, so the mundane aspects of her everyday life provide the source material for her novels. She finds humor and irony to make the mundane into entertaining. The film shows this in the beginning montage where we see country life in England intercut with Jane writing a humorous letter to her sister about her wedding day.
The film also shows how writing gives Jane a reason to keep her from marrying out of convenience. Jane will not live without love, be it from a love of writing or the love of a good man. Ideally, she would rather have both. But she has to choose and she chooses to refuse two proposals from Mr. Wisley and Mr. Warren, two men who have the financial stability but not the qualities that Jane wants in a husband. In her writing, Jane shows female characters who marry for convenience (i.e. Charlotte Lucas) and for love (i.e. Elizabeth Bennett).
Also, any Jane Austen fan can see parallels in the plot points in Becoming Jane to Austen’s novels. For example, Lady Gresham in Becoming Jane serves as the inspiration for Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice . In the montage of the writing of First Impressions, we can see how the bad boy aspects of Tom inspired the character of Wickham and the good man aspects of Tom inspired the character of Mr. Darcy, as Jane is writing this first draft while waiting for Tom to get his uncle’s approval to marry her.
This scene also exposes the sobering reality of Jane’s dreams. In an oblique reference to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Jane visits Mrs. Radcliffe, the author of The Mysteries of Uldopho. Mrs. Radcliffe points out the irony of being financially independent yet having a scandalous reputation as a novelist. Although Jane Austen is shown at the end having the respect of her audience, she is also unmarried. The film ends with Jane and Tom meeting again after many years. His daughter is among her many fans and asks her to read from Pride and Prejudice. Jane reads from Chapter 50 when the Bennets find out that Lydia and Wickham are going to be married and her uncle paid off all Wickham’s debts. Knowing that Lydia’s marriage to Wickham will lower Mr. Darcy’s opinion on her family even further, Elizabeth laments on losing Mr. Darcy’s love:
“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both. By her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was."
Jane looks up at Tom while reading this, thus telling him that he not only inspired the character of Mr. Darcy but also acknowledging her regret for leaving him. Even though she imagined their fate to be similar to Lydia and Wickham if they had carried on with the elopement, this scene shows that perhaps she could have imagined them beating the odds. Like Mrs. Radcliffe pointed out, “But even if [time] fails, that's what the imagination is for.” Jane Austen may not have known everlasting love, but in this film she takes her small experience with it and uses her imagination to write six novels about the joys, sorrows, and intricacies of love.