Becoming Jane

[Readings] (03.22.09, 6:42 pm)

Becoming Jane is a fictional filmic adaptation of Jane Austen’s life. The film heavily stresses her relationship between Thomas Lefroy, although this is actually not a relationship that has much to support it in the historical record. Over the course of the film, the events and characters inspire her to write Pride and Prejudice.

The film presents a dramatization of Austen’s life as though it were one of her novels. Generally, this is an interesting blend between the world of Jane Austen’s stories and the historical and hypothetical accounts of her life. Throughout the film there are allusions and references to her novels in terms of events, situations, and types of characters. This supports a theory of textual extension, where the film may be considered a work that is Austen’s by proxy.

The film itself supports the theory of deep reading and the existence of characters beyond the page. This is featured in a couple of the conversations between the character of Jane her companions. The idea of textual extension is actually a necessetity for this work to even exist, because in order to acknowledge a fictionalization of Jane Austen’s life, we must understand that it extends Austen through the gestures of her character given by her writing, and the historical accounts of her life.

Most significantly, the film presents a weaving through the literature of and about Jane Austen. It presents an interpretation not just of her character, but also of her world.


Opening is scenes of natural countryside, matched with scenes of writing. Amidst writing, plays piano, to obvious distress of family. Presentation is that Jane is frustration of family, that parents need her to marry. Some of the scenes between the family give a slightly more suggestive and bawdy character, but this is relatively subdued.

Next scene shows Jane in church, as minister presents moral lessons that seem to be directed at Jane specifically: that a woman must be quiet in the morning, must have a husband later in life, and must keep her profound intellect a profound secret. This reverberates with “moral” literature for women of the time. “Wit is the  most treacherous talent of them all” Seems a clear reference to Dr. Gregory’s letter to his daughters.

We see scenes of Austen and her family visiting a wealthy neighbor, Lady Gresham, in a scene that is reminiscent of Elizabeth’s visiting of Lady Catherine. There is a suggested intention of Jane being set up to marry Gresham’s nephew, Mr. Wisley, who stands to inherit a large estate. The dilemma is presented that the family is in a similar situation to most of Jane’s protagonists, but that Jane will not be tempted by such petty things as wealth.

The film cuts to a scene featuring a number of men interacting in a bawdy masculine space. There is first a boxing match within a bar, after which they leave, while being manhandled by a number of women. One of these is Jane’s brother Henry, the other is Thomas Lefroy. The latter is a character who the historical record has shown to have only the most incidental connections with Austen’s life, but shapes up to be the love interest in this film. Lefroy is a “mischievous” character, but and is also a law student (one might go so far as to call him a rake). What is interesting about this encounter is how dramatically set apart his character is from the standard literary world featured in Austen’s writing. While Jane lives in a world that resembles the space of her writing, Thomas is in an entirely different one.

The men return to the Austen family house, leading to a return of domestic scenes. Jane proceeds to read to her family (a congratulatory letter to her sister Cassandra regarding her engagement), which seems greatly entertaining to the family as a whole. Midway through, Lefroy interrupts and causes something of a slight scene (and nearly falls asleep during the reading). Jane is somewhat distressed and frazzled throughout the reading. Afterwards, she flips out and burns the letter (she was reading the wrong one?).

The next day, both she and Lefroy take walks in the woods surrounding the house. Lefroy sees Jane and attempts to catch up to her, where Jane remains evasive. They engage in some verbal sparring, with Jane being the voice of proper conduct and manners and Lefroy being so much more wild. Lefroy attempts to flirt, but Jane seems to reject this flirtation and storm off.

There is a dance scene after this, where Jane dances with Wisley, who comes across as stuttering and awkward, going so far as to tread on Jane’s feet while dancing. This presents an allusion to Mr. Collins. Afterward, Jane criticises Lefroy’s purported arrogance. They dance, and there is again verbal sparring during the dance. Afterwards, their behavior is described as potentially damaging to Jane because of Lefroy’s reputation.

There is a cricket game some time later, and Jane displays her thwarting of gender roles by unexpectedly joining the game.

While visiting the Lefroy house with her family, she visits the library and finds Tom Lefroy reading. He reads a fairly sexually explicit passage aloud from a book about nature (that Jane suggested he read). Lefroy asserts that, in order to be an accomplished author, Jane requires experience. She protests and demures with rejections of Lefroy’s history and reputation. He then suggests that she read Fielding’s Tom Jones.

We see a few scenes where Jane reads the book, whispering aloud, and is echoed by Lefroy’s voice as she does so. The cinematography makes this appear to be an awakening moment of sorts. Later, she approaches Lefroy about the book, disapproving of it. She explains that a book ought to show how the world really works, instead of giving overt moral lessons (where the good thrive and the bad are punished). She explains that the novel should reveal the true meanings behind character’s actions. This suggestion is consistent with the idea of deep reading behind characters (as existing beyond the text).

She and Lefroy visit some carnival, which again appears to be a transgression into the sort of boisterous masculine space. Lefroy again gets involved in a boxing match. This appears to again be a kind of revealing moment focusing on Lefroy’s character and Jane’s reaction to it.

Later, we see Mr. and Mrs. Austen discussing Jane’s potential marriage to Wisley, with Mrs. Austen saying that she should marry soon, and Mr. Austen saying that she should marry whoever will make her happy. This again seems a strong reference to the Bennett family. The next day, Lady Gresham and Wisley visit, during which Wisley awkwardly proposes. Jane rejects, and is afterwards loudly chastised by her mother. The emphasis is on the family’s poverty, and of the terrible fate that would befall Jane should she not marry well. The business with Lefroy is problematic because not only does Lefroy not have any money, but his reputation is actively damaging.

The next scene features a private ball which the family visits, but is made to be quite elegant, but awkward. Jane dances with Wisley, whilst under some degree of scrutiny by others, but is visited by Lefroy. Over the course of the evening, Jane overhears some of the romantic exchanges between her brother and her Eliza the Comtesse, and is approached by Lady Gresham, and finally is visited by Lefroy, wherein they kiss. Finally Lefroy proposes elopement.

Jane visits Lefroy’s uncle’s (Judge Langlois) house. She writes a letter to Cassandra discussing the elopement, with a glowing voice. Jane immediately offends Langlois by praising the virtues of irony and wit. Jane and Lefroy visit Ann Radcliffe the next day. Radcliffe appears somewhat awkward and is a sobering influence on Jane, expressing that her life both writer and wife is difficult. Having had this encounter, they return and Jane cannot sleep. She wakes up and begins writing First Impressions. Whispers from throughout the book are heard, suggesting that she writes a great deal of it in that evening.

Lefroy the next day attempts to persuade his uncle to consent to his marrying Jane. This is promptly and vehemently rejected, after having read a letter that appears to have been sent by Wisley. Because Lefroy is totally dependent on his uncle, he refuses to elope and Jane is heartbroken.

Jane returns home, visits Lady Gresham, and news arrives that Cassandra’s fiancee Fowle has died of Yellow Fever. Cassandra is greatly upset by this. Jane learns shortly after that Lefroy is in town.

An interesting encounter occurs where Jane meets with Wisley, brings up his earlier proposal, and then calls him on his letter to Langolis. This encounter has a strong resemblance, and is a sudden reversal, of the proposal scene between Darcy and Elizabeth (where Elizabeth confronts Darcy about his separation of separation of her sister and Bingley). The point of this seems to be about attempting to make out and distinguish Wisley’s character. She then accepts his proposal, and storms off.

Lefroy visits Jane while she is walking with her brother George, and he attempts to offer an explanation of his conduct. Lefroy has been engaged, and a confusing interchange occurs in which he again proposes elopement. She consents to run off with him. Later, Cassandra chides Jane regarding how difficult it will be for her to write with such an elopement.

While leaving, Jane discovers a letter from Lefroy’s parents about how they were thanking him for his sharing his allowance with them. The implication is that, despite his reputation, he is a good person for allowing his family to  depend on him. Jane rescinds the elopement for the sake of his family.

There is further drama between Gresham and Austen’s family. Though Jane and Wisley meet up and part amicably. Wisley gives Jane the idea for the famed opening line of what would become Pride and Prejudice.

There is a glimpse in the future, where we see Jane at a musical performance, where Jane, despite her anonymity, is approached by a fan. She meets up again with Lefroy (now married), and is introduced to his daughter. Jane gives an extremely unusual public reading.

Reading Info:
TitleBecoming Jane
ContextFictionally recounts the life of Jane Austen, and illustrates her world
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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