Monday, June 11, 2007

lady business

Last semester I took a course that focused entirely on Jane Austen. We read her novels, her letters, her juvenilia, her unfinished works, her biographies. We read articles about her, watched adaptations of her novels, and we talked about her role in society. It was very interesting to see how at the end of the semester, after we had all become Austen scholars, all of the students' opinions of her had changed. Many people came into the class with the same stereotype as exists in the rest of society, which is that Jane Austen is only read by teenage girls and housewives looking for something light to read about romance. As it turns out, Austen is ranked among the greatest of British authors to have lasted since her lifetime. Readers' devotion to Austen's work and the mysterious minutiae of her life parallels that of Shakespeare addicts, and yet Austen maintains this less-than-flattering public image.

I recently saw a trailer (see bottom of post) for the upcoming Austen biopic entitled Becoming Jane. It stars Anne Hathaway and tells the story of "her true love" or some other such nonsense according to Mr. Voice-Over man. Here's the thing - we don't know a whole hell of a lot about Austen's romance by the sea. We know she rejected a proposal from an eligible suitor, which was a very bad financial decision for her to make. I am really curious how this movie is going to be all happy and romantic if the true story ended with her being a spinster writing letters to her spinster sister and being dependent on the kindness of her brothers. I mean, this is basically Shakespeare in Love but probably with less nudity.

Reportedly, Anne Hathaway does a good job and was coached into having a very appropriate dialectic accent for Austen's time and location. She is quite pretty, though, and Austen scholars will always point out how since her death, Austen has been 'prettified' by those promoting her. The best image there is of her is a sketch done by her sister in which she looks pointed, sour, and a little old. Her relatives revamped this portrait to be published with her works, making her look young, angelic, and quite lovely. Yet more changes are being made to her appearance nowadays, which continues to fly in the face of the feminist Austen tradition.

I guess I'm just curious to see how Bennetizing this film will be on the image and reputation of Austen herself. My hope is that some of what scholars know to be true will be left untainted by this movie, as it is being released in conjunction with a new biography of the same name, I believe. Maybe after it comes out I should have a marathon of all the literary biopics, from Shakespeare in Love to Wilde, Sylvia, The Hours (kinda), Capote, Miss Potter, and any others I can find.

P.S. I did a Google search of "literary biopics," and apparently Michelle Williams, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Evan Rachel Wood have been cast to play the Brontë sisters. Yowza.

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