Becoming Jane (2007)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 1; L- 0; S/N – 2. Running time: 2 hours

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain
village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him
into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at
the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But
Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came
to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister
has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to
help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha,
you are worried and distracted by many things; there is
need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part,
which will not be taken away from her.’
Luke 10:38-42

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
I Timothy 2:11-15

Jane Austen at her writing desk.
(c) 2007 Miramax Films

Jane Austen, played by Anne Hathaway, is herself the center of this charming film set in Hampshire during the season leading up to Christmas 1795. Irish apprentice lawyer Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) prefers dancing, boxing, and drinking to the study of law in London, so his disapproving uncle ships him off to Hampshire in the hope of him changing for the better. Expecting to be bored, Tom enters into a semi-adversarial relationship with the young Jane Austen, who like him, is under pressure to do something against her will. Tom is up against his sober uncle who insists that he buckle down to study law, and Jane opposes her mother’s desire to marry her off as soon as possible.

Jane has been resisting the efforts of her mother to pair her with a local landed gentleman who is well heeled. Also, she is put off, upon their first meeting, by Tom Lefroy’s arrogance and contempt for those whom he regards as boorish rustics. However, he becomes intrigued by Jane’s desire to become a writer and thus support herself without having to marry a man she does not love. He challenges her to widen her horizons, eventually becoming so enamored with her that he proposes to throw aside all family obligations and elope together. The filmmakers have elaborated upon a brief relationship that Jane Austen had when she and Tom Lefroy were both 20 years old, giving us a fictional bittersweet tale of the woman destined to become one of the great novelists of the English language.

For some the script writers borrow two much from Miss Austen’s own works. Those who know her novel Pride and Prejudice will have no problem seeing which characters resemble her, her supposed suitor, and her family. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed the film, served well by a fine cast: as an historical documentation of the smothering of female desires for freedom to be themselves by exercising their creative talents, it is well worth seeing and discussing.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) How does the film help you to appreciate author Jane Austen’s remarkable literary achievements even more? Compare her situation to that of Beatrix Potter in the film Miss Potter.

2) Comment on Mrs. Austen’s statement, “Affection is desirable. Money is absolutely indispensable!” What truth is there in this? But do you think that she could ever have achieved much if she had married Mr. Wisley ?

3) When Lady Gresham and Mrs. Austen see Jane with her pen and notebook, her mother calls out, “Jane!” and Lady G. asks, “What is she doing?” What value does the good Lady apparently place upon female creativity, judging by what follows. Mrs. A answers, “Writing,” and Lady G. responds, “Can anything be done about it?” 4) What do you think of the challenges and suggestions that Tom Lefroy make to Jane? How is the cricket match a further instance of Jane’s seeking to break free of social strictures? Compare this to the story in Luke of Jesus’ visit in the home of Mary and Martha.

5) Compare what the author of 1 Timothy says about the role of women with the story in Luke. What do you think Jesus might have said to the writer? How have such passages been used through the ages to keep women “in their place” ? What do you think Jane Austen would say about women and their roles today? Would she still find targets for her wry wit and criticism?