Thursday, September 6, 2007

Becoming Janeite

“Becoming Jane” the latest Jane Austen film, has inspired the usual controversy among “Janeites” for taking liberties with certain facts and making up others. From the details of the courtship between Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen, based on research, to the end scene where she is an older woman and yet not wearing a day cap, the film has its share of inaccuracies. But, I’m still glad they made it.

The producers of the film purport that this version of the romance with Tom Lefroy was possible. It is also possible that Jane Austen invented jet propulsion and discovered penicillin, but it is not likely that she did. If the film’s producers had concentrated on what was likely and not what was possible, we might have a more interesting film. Miss Austen was an interesting person.

Films like this, however, have a wonderful purpose which even disgusted Janeites must allow. They bring newcomers to Jane Austen’s work.

I recall being about 14 when my mother suggested I read “Pride and Prejudice” because it was a classic and I might like it. Kind of like eat your spinach, it’s good for you. She had first become acquainted with the book while dutifully plowing through a high school summer reading list decades before. I read it. I liked it, but I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. The language Austen used went right over my unsophisticated head, and I figured this book must be a classic simply because it was old, like classic cars were old.

It was not until some years later when I was in college that I encountered the “Masterpiece Theatre” production of “Pride and Prejudice,” the Elizabeth Garvie/David Rintoul version which was, I believe, the gold standard before the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version came along. I enjoyed this production, shown, I think, in five episodes, and it made me realize something I didn’t realize when I was 14. Jane Austen is funny. The young woman was an acute, introspective, and intelligent observer of people around her, and her parodies were wicked. The woman was a hoot.

I immediately re-read “Pride and Prejudice,” which instantly became one of my favorite books, with a new perspective, and read all her other novels as well. I’ve become an Austen fan, but might never have been were it not for watching a filmed adaptation.

This goes as well for many classic films of old Hollywood, which were made of popular novels of that era. “Alice Adams” (1935) with Katharine Hepburn led me to the novels of Booth Tarkington, and “The Good Earth” (1937) introduced me to the novel by Pearl Buck. I read “How Green was My Valley” after seeing the 1941 film, and this goes as well for “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), “The Grapes of Wrath,” (1939), “Lost Horizon” (1937), and “Gone With the Wind” (1939). Also, “The Little Minister” by James Barrie because of the 1934 film with Katharine Hepburn.

So, bring on the films about Jane Austen and her novels. I may watch them with a grain of salt if I have to, but enjoy them nonetheless.

Frankly, I’m not sure my mother was being completely honest when she recommended “Pride and Prejudice” to me based on it being a favorite from her old high school reading list. I’m not so sure it wasn’t the 1940 movie with Greer Garson and Sir Laurence Olivier that made her a fan. For her, Greer Garson was the definitive Lizzie.

If young people who are fans of Anne Hathaway will head to the library because of this film, then huzzah for “Becoming Jane.”

That’s all for this week. See you Monday. Pray, have a most delightful weekend.

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BBC Classics Collection [DVD] DVD

Pride And Prejudice (10th Anniversary Limited Collector's Edition) [DVD](1995) DVD

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