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Fun Friday–Miss Austen Regrets

Friday, February 1, 2008


Miss Austen Regrets / Olivia Williams 

I must confess that I don’t know much about my favorite author’s life. I know the most basic details: she died in her early forties; she was a spinster; she didn’t make much money off her writing; she was the daughter of a country clergyman who took in students to help make more money; she had an older sister, Cassandra, and a niece, Fanny, to whom she was very close; two (or more?) of her brothers went into the Royal Navy, and at least one of them rose to the rank of admiral; and she may have had one broken engagement in her past.

Somehow, I’ve managed to separate my love for her stories from having a great deal of curiosity about the intimate details of her life. For me, I enjoy knowing this brief bit about her background because it helps me as a reader feel confident she knew the people and society she wrote about. But I really don’t want to know that much about the personal lives of my favorite authors (or actors/actresses). It allows me to focus solely on the story and not be thinking about the creator behind it.

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen

I missed last year’s Becoming Jane, which focuses on Jane as a younger woman during her romance with Tom Lefroy, an event in her life we do not have a lot of details about, just a lot of conjecture. This Sunday’s Miss Austen Regrets focuses on the last five or six years of her life.

    “The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love.”
    — Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility 

    Approaching her fortieth birthday, Jane Austen (Olivia Williams, Emma, The Sixth Sense) appears happily unmarried. When asked by her young niece Fanny (Imogen Poots) to help her vet potential husbands, Jane’s confident composure is threatened as she finds herself looking back on her own potential suitors and the choices she has made. Could potential family financial ruin have been averted if she’d accepted the proposal of a wealthy landowner? And what about the handsome young physician Jane meets as a result of a family illness?

    Based on the life and letters of Jane Austen, Miss Austen Regrets tells the story of the novelist’s final years, examining why, despite setting the standard for romantic fiction, she died having never married or met her own Mr. Darcy. (From the PBS/Masterpiece Classics website)

I can already tell, just by the quote at the top of the main page for this film on PBS’s website that they’re trying to do what other films about Jane Austen’s life have done: try to explain away everything in her life by making her stories out to be more autobiographical than they most likely were. Yes, Jane Austen wrote the line that is quoted from Sense & Sensibility, but she was writing in the character of Marianne Dashwood, the character who was all sensibility and no sense. Just because one of her characters said that in one of her books, doesn’t mean that’s how Jane Austen felt herself. [I know I as a writer have had plenty of characters say things that I personally don’t feel or believe.]

I also find it interesting that it seems like those who write the stories for these fictionalized-biographies of Jane Austen’s life make it seem as if Mr. Darcy were Jane’s favorite hero out of all those she wrote. Any Janite who knows this for certain, please correct me, but I do not believe that anywhere, in any of her still-existing writing, does she mention that Mr. Darcy was her favorite hero. If she was anything like me when it came to writing, her favorite hero was the one she happened to be writing about at the time. So, if this is really set in the last few years of her life, it would probably have been Frederick Wentworth, not Darcy, as her last completed novel was Persuasion (in 1816), and Sanditon, the novel she was working on when she died, isn’t a romance.

Anyway, I’m not here to debate the merits of this style of literary criticism (I can’t remember the exact term for it, but twining the author’s personal life with his/her fictional works as if the fictional works are merely representations of the author’s life is one branch of literary criticism), I’m here to post a preview of the film.

Greta Sacchi as Cassandra Austen

The movie starts off with a younger Jane and Cassandra running (here we go with the running again) through the halls of a great house when Jane is pulled aside and proposed to. Cassandra, her older sister, questions her acceptance, and the next thing we know, Jane has recanted.

Imogen Poots as Fanny Knight 

Twelve years later, Jane is asked by her niece, Fanny Knight, to help Fanny screen potential suitors. This request is what makes Jane start reminiscing over all the times in her life when she had (or might have had) the opportunity for romance and/or marriage. In reading the extended synopsis of the film, I’m a little concerned over the implication that when a certain young doctor turns his attention from Jane to Fanny, Jane “becomes sullen and resentful.” (Again, Janites, help me out here—is there anything like this reflected in her letters or personal papers?)

Jack Huston as Dr. Charles Haden 
(Is it just me, or does he look like a young Rufus Sewell?)

I’m hoping that the story will be well-written enough that I’ll be able to set aside what I do know about Jane Austen, as well as my own personal projections about being a thirty-something, single romance writer, and truly be able to enjoy this film. But I do have to say that, right now, this “Complete Jane Austen Series” is 1–2 (one win, two losses), so please excuse my trepidation.

For a more in-depth review of the film, visit the Jane Austen’s World blog.

Links of Interest
A letter of apology to Jane Austen from columnist Theresa Hogue of the Corvallis, OR, Gazette Times
Listing on (interesting that they have the image from Persuasion up on this page!)
Main page at PBS’s Masterpiece Classics site
The Republic of Pemberley

For the most accurate information on Jane Austen (and all of her works):
The Jane Austen Society of North America

  1. Friday, February 1, 2008 2:01 pm

    I try to steer clear of learning too much about authors/actors/persons of interest whose work I admire for fear of discovering they have feet of clay. While I know no one is perfect, it rubs some of the bloom off to find a writer or actor I admire is nothing like the calibre persons they write or portray. Naive? Probably, but it works for me.


  2. Friday, February 1, 2008 2:12 pm

    Great article. Miss Austen Regrets is really great and very moving. It will inspire you to read her letters. Cheers, Laurel Ann


  3. Friday, February 1, 2008 6:42 pm

    I’m that way too. I was a fan of Tom Cruise before he opened his big mouth and made a jackass out of himself. I love A Few Good Men, but can’t bring myself to watch it anymore because of his attitude.

    I’m glad I don’t know very much about Heath Ledger’s life. I want it to stay that way too so I can legitimately miss his lack of future contributions to the silver screen.


  4. Friday, February 1, 2008 7:46 pm

    I was never a huge Tom Cruise fan, but now I refuse to watch anything he’s ever been in in the past and will never watch anything new he puts out.

    This is why I don’t read People magazine or anything like that. I really don’t want to know what those people are really like.


  5. Saturday, February 2, 2008 1:06 pm

    Hi, Didn’t know how else to get in touch with you but this is in reference to your early school comments on Erica’s blog.

    Would you mind if I borrow the construction paper “address learning” idea? I seem to recall I had a horrible time remembering the numbers and West 8th Street when asked for my own. It might make a cute children’s story but it needed the OOMP of the construction paper on the blackboard–who will be the last kid standing?

    Let me know and thanks, Donna


  6. Sunday, February 3, 2008 12:24 am

    I’m anxious to see this. I really liked Becoming Jane – not because I think it’s a faithful biopic by a long shot (LOL).



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