Saturday, March 01, 2008

Becoming Jane

There’s a reason why Jane Austen’s six novels remain among the most popular English novels ever: excellence in every way. She writes with depth, with astute understanding into human relationships, with accuracy, with perception, with talent. Unfortunately, the movie Becoming Jane, does not share the same level of excellence as her novels. Let me explain.

I’ve never met a woman who disliked Jane Austen stories. One of the reasons is because her romances are believable. Darcy is a little rough around the edges at the beginning of P&P (Pride and Prejudice), but by the end of the book, the reader is utterly convinced of the beauty of Elizabeth’s choosing him and of their subsequent happiness. You are not left with a vague notion of: “Now what did she see in him?” Furthermore, the man who at first was so likeable, but proves to have a bad character, (the Mr. Wickham of P&P), is portrayed in such a way that in the end, the reader feels a true repulsion to him and is thankful that the lady escaped a life with such a man. The screen writers of Becoming Jane failed to follow Jane’s example. They succeeded in making Mr. Lefroy immediately repulsive to the viewer, perhaps in an attempt to mimic the early relationship of Elizabeth and Darcy. But if it is true that people write from their own experience, and Jane’s relationship with Mr. Lefroy made it into her novels to any extent, then the movie’s portrayal of Mr. Lefroy is dead-wrong. In P&P, Elizabeth is immediately unnerved by Darcy because of his lack of warmth and friendliness which she interprets as pride. Later, it is shown that he is shy and not at ease with people he does not know. This is surely a far-cry from the character of Mr. Lefroy. He is shown to be a drinker, boxing in shady London bars, flirting with women of the night, and fond of perverted literature. A red flag must surely go up in the mind of any viewer who has the slightest amount of knowledge of Austen’s works. I almost felt as if this movie had the exact opposite message that Austen firmly established in all six of her novels. Not one single character trait the movie establishes for Mr. Lefroy can be found in any of the positive men in any of her novels. Not one of the men her main characters end up with are frequenters of bars, boxers, into racy novels, flirtatious, or otherwise unreputable. They are all men of the utmost character. They all prove themselves one way or another in each novel to entirely respectable, honest, trustworthy men who despise anything with even the appearance of evil.

The movie leaves us to believe that if it was not for Mr. Lefroy’s financial difficulties Austen would have married him and they would have been happy together indeed. This, I believe, could have been the biggest mistake of the movie. If there is in fact convincing, historical evidence that Mr. Lefroy was in fact a boxer, drinker, flirter, etc., (I don’t believe there is), the only way I could reconcile those facts with the testimony of Austen’s novels is by seeing Mr. Lefroy as a kind of Mr. Wickham of P&P. I believe it possible that she could have been charmed by him acting as if he was a man of character and her not knowing his true nature until later. Instead, the movie showed Jane falling in love with him, not in spite of his lack of character, but because of it. This is an unthinkable idea for anyone who has read her books. I don’t believe it possible to live one way in life and write so convincingly and consistently the opposite way in your novels. Her novels bear a unified testimony of her beliefs in the importance of worthiness of character over infatuation.

There are some minor points that the movie got right. Austen’s novels do condemn marrying for convenience and not love, and Jane in the movie stays consistent with that. Jane’s mother and father act a lot like Mr. and Mrs. Bennett and Jane’s sister Cassandra bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Bennett’s sister Jane. But I almost felt as though they were trying to fool me by maintaining an appearance of being faithful to Jane’s writing, so that when they cut out the very heart of the message of her literature, it would seem more palatable. I have a stinking suspicion this movie was conceived in the putrid swamp of revisionist theory in which one is free to interpret a text of literature as one sees fit. I have this vision of a bunch of perverted Holly Wood screen writers sitting around a room brain storming about how they want to make a movie about Jane Austen that “challenges the popular conceptions of her character.” A new and “bold” movie that shows the true darker side of things that no one ever knew. Basically, they were trying to undermined everything that her novels stood for.

The writers of the movie proved themselves to incapable of understanding and being faithful to Austen’s literature. They preferred to superimpose their own worldview. We see their worldview everyday in practically every movie that’s made. That is why Austen’s books and movies remain so popular after more than 200 years; we have to draw from a different period of time to get something of quality.

Titus 1:15
To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.

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