*Warning: I am actually filled with regret about many things.
Sorry, guys. I know this book blog has gone off the rails a little bit in that this post and the last one are about movies. I’m currently slogging through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is my main reading focus right now. However, in between moving and trying to keep my shit together at work and even attempting an existence outside my bedroom, I’ve not been successful at getting much reading done. All my books but Tenant are in boxes right now, so I’m hoping to get a jump on that. But today I had an outpatient medical procedure done and it’s almost 100 degrees outside my non-air-conditioned room. I feel pretty good outside of being a person who spent 90 minutes of her day driving around in 100-degree weather, but I’m not at 100%. So I decided to lie down and watch a damn movie and that damn movie was Miss Austen Regrets.
For those of you just tuning in: after seeing Austenland, I had kind of had it with Jane Austen fan fiction, but I still wanted to see Miss Austen Regrets. One of the commenter recommended it to me (and she didn’t like Austenland either, so I trust her). Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Austen’s life—for a Janeite, that is. I know Becoming Jane is a steaming pile of horseshit. I also watched a special feature on the Jane Austen Book Club DVD in which Austen scholar Joan Klingel Ray (author of Jane Austen for Dummies) talks about Austen’s life. I haven’t read Austen’s letters yet, but I understand that the writer of Miss Austen Regrets followed them closely.
In her life, Austen may have had a flirtation-or-more with Tom LeFroy and was actually engaged once to a man named Harris Bigg-Wither. The couple remained engaged for one night, before Austen changed her mind. The film adds another former suitor, a family friend named Brook Bridges (played by Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville), who I don’t think existed in real life, but his hanging around makes for good drama. The forty-year-old Austen also enjoys the company of young Dr. Haden for a bit (played by Jack Huston in one of the rare occasions I see his face intact). Even if Brook Bridges was invented to stir up drama, I thought it was way better than the way Becoming Jane made Tom LeFroy The One Who Got Away. Bridges is more inclined to revel in the past than Austen.
I really liked Miss Austen Regrets. I liked Olivia Williams as Austen: she was both excellently dry-witted but emotional when the moment called for it. She felt very genuine to me, not timid like Anne Hathaway in the cock-up that is Becoming Jane. Of course, that Jane is only twenty and beginning to write. The Jane of Miss Austen Regrets is pushing forty and knows she won’t get her Mr. Darcy (not that she wants him). Here’s a great quotation from Olivia Williams in the article linked above:
Austen’s bittersweet experiences endowed her novels with a rare astringency. “One’s impressions from screen adaptations of Austen is that it’s all lovely girls running down hills in flowery dresses,” Williams says. “But Austen could be a real bitch as well. She could nail the weaknesses in someone’s appearance or accent. She could deconstruct people accurately and uncharitably, and would rail against their faults and foibles. That’s why I – and the vigilante Janeites – love her.”
Perhaps my favorite part of Miss Austen Regrets was the most heart-wrenching element of the film: Jane regrets not marrying because the actions of her youth have left her family in the lurch decades later. She doesn’t make enough for a household of three women to live on. Her novels are immensely popular, but she has to team up with her brother to fight the publishers’ low-balling her. As her brothers’ financial futures become uncertain (one loses much of his estate because of inheritance; the other’s bank fails), her mother admonishes her for rejecting Harris Bigg-Wither, which would have secured the family. In one way, Austen is sort of the reverse of the heroines of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Marrying for love may be important, as she says to her twenty-year-old niece in the film, but marrying for money is almost just as important. Perhaps all of that is very close to real biographical details. If they are, I appreciate Austen all the more.
I’m not sure I’ve This is Jane Austen as she should be on the silver screen: independent, sharp, dynamic. I think part of my wariness of film biopics comes from 2003’s The Hours, which my class on the Bloomsbury group watched together. In eighth grade, this film didn’t bother me (except that I went on a double-mother-daughter-date with my Catholic bff and we all had to talk about the large amount of lady kisses in the car). After taking a class in Virginia Woolf, The Hours made me mad (and Woolf scholars all over the world). Sure, it was based on a novel, but it also reduced the brilliant, articulate Woolf to a dithering madwoman. Perhaps as I learn more about Austen’s life, I’ll find more and greater faults with Miss Austen Regrets.
So, yes, this is short and gushing, but this bed-ridden Janeite has no regrets about Miss Austen Regrets.