Becoming Jane

I lured my husband into watching an uber long film about one of the many possible scenarios for the tragic long affair which put author Jane Austen off the idea of marriage. As if the early 19th century views of women as chattel and marriage as a financial arrangement wouldn’t have done that without any help from a failed romance.

Having watched Pride and Prejudice not long ago, I have to say that Austen is not for those who prefer mono-syllabic dialogue or characters who, when they insist on speaking in sentences, do so using very small words. Austen makes my brain hurt. It’s like an episode of Gilmour Girls with better diction, grammar and word usage.

One thing that struck me over and over again during the movie was how much it sucked to be a woman. The only thing we were good for was marriage and then motherhood. In fact Jane’s reverend father practically begins the film with a lecture to his congregation on the virtues of a stupid woman because being clever will bring all women to misery.

In the course of the story Jane, whose prospects are portrayed as poor despite the fact that at least three men are panting after her, falls in love with a young man who is dependent on his uncle for university and eventual career. Since the young man’s mother had married for love, he is their only financial assistance and hope. Farming out one’s children to wealthy, childless relatives was a common practice. I wonder why that stopped?

Jane and the young man are eventually forced to run off, which is scandalous for her, but she decides in the end not to marry her love because his family depends on him and she can’t live with their ruin and her own too.

As I thought about it, I realized if the social structure of that time had survived my dad would have had three daughters to marry off and one son who wouldn’t have been able to hold on to any inheritance he was left. My younger sisters were pretty and complacent and wouldn’t have posed much of a challenge, but I would have ended up a dependent old maiden auntie.

Rob though would have simply forged a trail of his own. All that handymanlyness he possesses would never have saddled him with the onerous task of sucking up for his keep.

This made me wonder about Jane’s young suitor. He had a new world to flee to and start again, but he let her convince him to stay within the confines of a social system which was designed to assess people monetarily and cage them within polite expectations of family, neighbors and community at large. How sad.

She at least was able, mostly due to her modest gentry origins, to maintain her freedom and pursue her writing, but what about women who hadn’t “talent” or tolerant family? What happened to them?

It was, as I mentioned earlier, a long movie with ear grinding dialogue and unless you enjoy pondering the larger questions of sexism and societal impositions on personal choices, it is a movie better left alone.

7 thoughts on “Becoming Jane

  1. I probably would have been in the lower classes, married early, had a raft of kids, and a life of drudgery. It does us well to remember that women like Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, for all their pleading genteel poverty, were one step above most of the people in the country at the time.

  2. I like Anne Hathaway, so I enjoyed the movie despite its length and copious amounts of dialogue. I am fascinated with stories about women who go against every expectation to pave their own way. On that theme I enjoyed the movie “Miss Potter,” the story of Beatrix Potter, and it didn’t put my husband to sleep.

  3. have often wondered how i would have fared in the 19th century – and came to the same conclusion you did: spinsterhood. in my case, probably with a large dose of familial shame along the way…

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