Monday, February 9, 2009

Becoming Un-Jane

"Becoming Jane" ended with a caption that said, "Jane Austen went on to write six of the greatest novels in the English Language." The suckiness that goes into that useless and wrong capitalization of "Language" is reflected throughout the movie. I know, surprise surprise--listen, I like to give these things a chance.

If one put aside historical realities, the movie became merely one of those vapid creations that so often pass for romantic comedies. It was chock-full of approbation for disobeying parents, disregarding prudence, and generally disavowing reason and intelligence.

If you didn't put aside historical realities, of course, you'd find lots more things to be offended by: the number of times Jane takes off her hat in public, how she runs around and plays cricket with the boys, how she's making out with her boytoy beneath that tree in some lady's garden.

The best thing about the movie is that it didn't end happily. I don't mean that vindictively, I swear. I mean that the (historically-forced) ending alone shows a sense of independence from the typical romantic-comedy script--that sense of independence which Jane (in theory) values so very much. That it is missing from the rest of the film--with Jane falling unselfconsciously as she does for the village heartthrob and following him stumblingly from one end of England to the other--is perhaps not a surprise, but no less aggravating as a result. We are left with a sense that this isn't the true Jane, the one with the wit and the shrewd whistle-blowing on middle-high society. The one that's more Dr. Johnson than the Misses Brontë.

If it's this wrong about its heroine, how do we know how much of Jane's history the movie presents is actually true? How can we use it to add any kind of zing to our reading of her novels? What's the point of this movie???

True, I am sure that Jane wrote her heroines to act as she *wished* she acted, and not as she in reality did. Lizzie Bennett's wit is sharper and Eleanor Dashwood's heart is steadier than Jane's, most likely. Jane herself was likely correcting her foibles by the successes of her leading ladies. But if that were the point that this movie were trying to make, it needed to make it more deliberately and not, as I suspect, by pure accident.

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