Monday, 19 March 2012

Miss Austen Regrets

Just finished watching Miss Austen Regrets - a film about Jane Austen's personal life, that is, romances. The scene opens when Mr Harris Biggs proposes to Jane and she accepts. Later on, in a carriage, she wonders whether she has made the right decision.

Fast forward to years later. Jane is now about 40 and still a spinster. Her sister Cassandra had persuaded her not to marry Biggs as she didn't love him. We see Jane having a warm and gossipy relationship with her niece, Fanny Knight, and shares her ideas of love with her. Jane is now a successful novelist and people like to praise her novels.

Fanny has a suitor called Mr Plumtree who is rich. She is determined to marry him if he asks, but Jane warns her don't, if she doesn't love him. Fanny is indignant, because she genuinely seems to enjoy being with him. Whether she really loves him is another matter. She and Jane discuss Jane's love life, and it turned out years ago she was in love with Tom Lefroy. They couldn't marry as they both had no money, so he married an heiress.

Her brother Edward (Fanny's father) hopes for the match, as he has 12 children and a lawsuit against his estate. He asks Jane to encourage it but Jane refuses. I must say I admire Jane Austen, though I don't love her novels, for her refusal to marry for money or even to make others do so.

Jane visits her brother Henry, who is a banker, and supports her. her mother and sister. He falls ill and she runs to get a doctor, John Haden. Mr Haden is an amiable witty man and she gradually grows attached to him. But nothing comes out of it and she is sad. This is however untrue: Jane was never in love with Mr Haden. Filmmakers I think try to sex things up.  Still, this added plot you could argue adds some depth - it shows Jane as a weak, vulnerable woman in love, even though we know there is no real relationship between her and Mr Haden. It is also ambiguous, because we see Jane as one who will not lose her head for love and distrusts feelings of passion. She seems more human that way, and being an old spinster, it isn't hard to see why a dashing man would stir her a bit, after all she's lonely.

Fanny in the meantime is angry with Jane for persuading her not to marry Plumtree because he never proposed. She had seen him through Jane's eyes, and Plumtree had known Jane didn't admire him. He has married someone else.

Another scene. Henry has become bankrupt and his brother had guaranteed his estate.  Jane's mother Mrs Austen rages at her for not marrying rich Mr Biggs, otherwise they would have been comfortable.

"Would you have wanted me to sell myself?" shouts Jane.
"Yes!" shouts back Mrs Austen. What a horrible cow, to blame your daughter for NOT selling herself.

Jane in the end is shown as being lonely and unhappy. She claims she's happy, writing novels, which she never could had she been married, but you can see she longs for affection. One of these minimalistic dramas with little conversation and few characters taking part in the main action.  She falls ill and dies, but we don't see the death scene.

Fanny marries and has a celebration. But Cassandra, Jane's close sister, is sitting by the fire by herself, burning Jane's letters. Fanny tells her not to burn them but she does so anyway.

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