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Miss Austen Regrets

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Let me see if I can collect my emotions enough to write coherently!

Stunningly poignant. That’s my review. None of the concerns I mentioned in Friday’s post came to fruition (just goes to show that you can’t judge a movie by its preview), and I connected with this movie and with the portrayal of Jane on a deeper level than I imagined possible.

This film was strangely personal for me. There were so many times when I found myself in tears just from what people were saying to Jane about the way her writing affected those who read it . . . especially the conversation with the French maid–that God had given Jane the dual gifts of singleness and writing romances to give hopes and dreams to women who’d lost theirs. And all I could think was, If God is using this film to try to tell me He’s given me that gift, I’ll never be worthy of it.

Even now, several minutes after the movie has ended, I still have tears streaming down my cheeks, trying to process the meaning of the talent, the genius, the solitude of the author I admire so much. Trying to understand if, through the brilliant dialogue—especially at the end—if I, like Jane, am meant to forego romance in my own life to give that part of my time and attention solely over to my writing.

This sounds silly and sentimental, I know, that I’ve been affected so deeply by a movie. But it’s definitely given me a lot to think and pray and soul-search about.

Oh, but one little critique: once again, the filmmakers have included characters dancing a waltz, this time in 1814. While the waltz was introduced in London in 1812, it was widely considered vulgar and scandalous—especially in the country and amongst the clergy—until post-Regency (after 1820). Here is a quote from a book reviewed in the Edinburgh Magazine dated 1818:

‘I do not mean to say that I consider all young ladies who waltz as devoid of modesty, delicacy, or proper feeling; but I feel that I should wish my sister, or my mistress, or my wife, to have a sort of untaught aversion to the familiarity which waltzing induces. I would have her prize too highly, from self-respect, the sort of favour which a woman confers on a man with whom she waltzes, to be willing to bestow it on any one of her acquaintance. I would wish her to preserve her person unprofaned by a clasping arm, but that of privileged affection. For indeed, dear Miss Musgrave, if I saw even a woman whom I loved, borne along the circling waltz, as I see these young ladies now borne, I should be tempted to address her partner in the words of a noble poet–‘What you touch you may take.’

  1. Sunday, February 3, 2008 11:20 pm

    Thank you for your touching reaction to the movie. It was a hanky honker for me too. Cheers, Laurel Ann, Austenprose


  2. Monday, February 4, 2008 9:07 am

    Well said. I absolutely loved it. It was incredibly, wonderfully moving.


  3. Monday, February 4, 2008 5:29 pm

    Sniffle. Mope. The power went out 30 minutes before airtime, so I never got to see Miss Austen Regrets. Am most distressed. May write PG&E a strongly worded letter.



  4. Monday, February 4, 2008 5:35 pm

    Our PBS station is replaying it at 2:00 AM tonight—you may want to check the listings on your local channel to see if they’re replaying it and record it! It is NOT TO BE MISSED!


  5. Monday, February 4, 2008 10:36 pm

    I enjoyed it as well.

    Kaye, what was it Jane died of?


  6. Monday, February 4, 2008 10:42 pm

    It is commonly believed that she died of Addison’s disease.


  7. Sunday, February 10, 2008 2:51 pm

    Hi Kaye, I am late to the party. Your review was quite touching and I am so happy that you responded to the film on such a deep, emotional and spiritual level. I have talked to many people who experienced the same reaction to the film as you did. I have also talked to others who came away feeling as I did – that Jane would not have felt the degree of regret that this film seems to depict.

    Having wrestled with my single state after a long marriage, and having come to the conclusion that one can find fulfillment and contentment in one’s work and family despite the surprises that life throws one’s way, I found the emphasis on regret in this movie to be too much of a downer.

    However, I agree with you that the dialog was superb, and hearing Jane’s words spoken with so much intelligence and feeling was truly refreshing. This was not a dumbed down plot.

    I just wish-wish-wish that the movie had shown Jane to be more satisfied with the conscious choices she’d made for herself. Yes, she experienced money problems. Yes, her life was cut much too short, but I firmly believe that someone who was writing at the height of her creative powers, would have brushed aside thoughts that bemoaned past decisions. There WAS one regret that had me crying, however. When Olivia as a dying Jane said she still had so many stories to write, I trembled.

    While I liked this movie and appreciated its intelligent approach to Jane’s life, its very somber tone prevented me from fully embracing it.


  8. Sunday, February 10, 2008 3:22 pm

    The film had a somber tone and the level of regret shown in Jane was one of the reasons why you didn’t enjoy the film as much as you might have liked to. But I believe (and just stick with me on this) that there is a level of contentment to be achieved through regret. Not saying that we choose to be content wallowing in regret—i.e., remorse—but that acknowledging past choices with hindsight, with the knowledge that life may have turned out differently had different choices been made, can bring about contentment in the situation we find ourselves in. Because once we allow ourselves the vulnerability of regret—not remorse, but regret—we open ourselves to the ability to find closure. And that, to me, was the theme of “regret” in this movie. She looked back with regret on several choices she made in the past because she knew if she’d chosen differently, it could have brought comfort to her family. But by looking back on those choices, I believe (in the film) that rather than sending her into the doldrums of remorse, it gave her a sense of closure by bringing her to the realization that had she made any other choice, she wouldn’t have been as happy, as content—as free—as she was because of the choices she did make.

    And that was my favorite line in the film—that she chose freedom for herself by the choices she made. And I’m getting choked up again just thinking about it, darn it!

    I don’t know if that explanation makes sense to anyone but me, but that’s my interpretation.


  9. T Jerrold permalink
    Monday, February 11, 2008 10:06 am

    Thanks for your comments. My initial reaction to MAR was similar to that to that of Ms. Place. As a long time bachelor who married very late, thus foregoing having kids and a family of my own but having many advantages my married friends could only wish for, I could identify with the themes explored in this presentation. I suspect many modern career women who gave up early marriage prospects would have similar thoughts. But mirroring my own thoughts over the years, I wish JAs life had been portrayed in a bit less melancholy manner. Perhaps it’s a guy thing, but I deliberately don’t get weepy or engage in what-if deliberations. But after reading thoughtful comments like yours I am realizing MAR explored in a sensitive and thoughtful manner a subject that many career women and men grapple with even today.

    For me, Persuasion is the finest novel that ever was written. Those who pass up early chances and have time to “regret” know what Jane Austen is writing about.


  10. Michal O'Dwyer permalink
    Monday, October 13, 2008 10:03 am

    I was surprised to find so many rave reviews about Miss Austen Regrets and no real criticism, until it occurred to me that most reviewers were ardent Austen fans.
    As an avid Austen reader and student, I expected a better portrayal of her life and character. Or at least as good as Austen’s portrayal of her own characters’ life and dilemmas.
    Granted, some of the dialogue is sharp, observant, penetrating…it should be no less if it is based on Austen’s letters, as we are told it is. The acting is fine too. But all this is not enough to hold together a sequence of scenes and scenery that somehow don’t add up to a coherent whole.
    True, Austen is much cleverer than her fictional characters and “real life” is more complicated than her novels, which all contrive to have happy endings. But surely the character, narrative and most of all the script should have provided the heroine (Austen herself) with clearer views, insights and conduct.
    The acting was competent (although far from the unadulterated praises of some reviews), but there’s just so much an actress can do with such obscure lines. Why did Cassandra burn the letters? If it really happened, the script writer should have explained this key event, unless it’s an excuse to keep Austen’s motives a mystery.
    After viewing the film twice I still don’t get a clear picture of what exactly Austen regrets and why she did whatever she did. Did she reject her suitor because she didn’t love him? I thought she based Persuasion on her own experience of being (wrongly) persuaded to reject someone she dearly loved. The movie suggests,however, that she didn’t love him and would not “sell herself” for money.
    Because she wanted to devote herself to writing? The movie suggests that she would have enjoyed greater freedom to write had she opted for love plus financial security.
    Perhaps part of the problem is Olivia Williams’ great beauty – not at all like the real Austen’s modest appearance. It is hard to believe that anyone as beautiful as Williams would have remained unwed in an age when survival as a single woman without fortune was so difficult – not if she could help it. Especially if she wanted to write. The movie made her out to be plain selfish. Yet terribly hurt when anyone suggested as much.
    The entire depiction of her character and moves is not only unconvincing – it falls short of the depiction of any of Austen’s own heriones. At least they would have had clearer answers to Fanny’s questions instead of the cynical, sometimes contradictory witticisms spread by Williams’ Austen, which left her niece dumfounded.



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