Just a few weeks ago, I realized that you can actually rent movies from Amazon Instant Video, where you can buy the movie and have it on your PC/Mac for 24 to 48 hours depending on the movie. I decided that one of the movies I would watch for my Teachers, Schools & Society class was Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen.
I have always been a big Jane Austen fan having read many of her books, but somehow had never managed to watch the movie. In 2004, when I was travelling through England and Scotland, we stopped in Bath, England which happened to be Jane’s home from 1801 to 1806 and is the main setting for two of her books — Northanger Abbey and Persuasian.
One of the biggest underlying themes in Becoming Jane, is that of classism. The movie is inspired by the early life of Jane Austen and occurs in England in the late 1700s, where class is a main guiding force in that society. Jane’s family find themselves on the fringes of the elite classes in England, where Jane’s father, a reverend, does not make enough money to allow his family to live a life without worry. There are several times throughout the movie that elude to the need for Jane to marry a man of wealth. Her mother tells her:
“Affection is desireable. Money is absolutely indispensable!” — Mrs. Austen
Her mother keeps pushing for her to marry Mr. Wisely as that will set her off well financially and be in that upper class. Her mother tells her that there is not enough of an inheritance from her and her father to support Jane after they are gone. Mr. Wisely proposes to Jane, and his aunt Lady Gresham also pushes for Jane to accept this offer. They all tell her how well off she would be and how much Mr. Wisely is set to inherit upon the death of Lady Gresham.
Jane and her father though push for affection in marriage, rather than just money.
“If I marry, I want it to be out of affection. Like my mother.” – Jane “And I have to dig my own d*mn potatoes!” Mrs. Austen
“Jane should have not the man who offers the best price, but the man she wants.” – Rev. Austen
The issue of classism and the importance of it, when it comes to marriage comes up again, when Tom is professing his love to Jane. He tells her:
“I have no money, no property, I am entirely dependent upon that bizarre old lunatic, my uncle. I cannot yet offer marriage, but you must know what I feel. Jane, I’m yours. God, I’m yours. I’m yours, heart and soul. Much good that is.” – Tom
Another underlying theme throughout this movie on romance, is the various differing gender roles in that time period. There was a clear divide between the roles that males and females play. Even Rev. Austen who supports Jane and her love of writing, is preaching and talking about the roles of women in which he includes daughter, wife, mother, sister (all relational roles). Tom LeFroy also points out the differences when the two of them are in the library discussing Jane’s writing. Tom tells her:
“If you wish to practice the art of fiction, to be the equal of a masculine author, experience is vital.”
It is almost as if he is dangling this carrot in front of her saying she needs experience to be an equal, but doubting that such equality could exist even with the experience. Also all the roles of women throughout the movie place them in very genderized roles of being wifes, girlfriends, and observers (rather than participants). This is evidenced in the scene when the men are playing cricket, and women are watching. After Warren is quickly taken out of the game and there is no other men left to play, Jane gets up to play thereby blurring the gender roles. Her mother remains aghast that she is going to play and yet Jane proves herself to be quite good at the game.
One more scene that shows societal views of gender roles, occurs when Jane has gotten to opportunity to meet Mrs. Radcliffe, a known author of the time. Jane is asking her about being an author and a woman and her thoughts and the thoughts of her husband. Mrs. Radcliffe responds:
“To have a wife who has a mind is considered not quite proper. To have a wife with a literary reputation nothing short of scandalous.”
These various ways that the movie protrays gender roles, can also be classified as sexism. The movie clearly shows how women were viewed as inferiors to men in that time period in England. Women from the higher classes were groomed to be pretty and stand on the sidelines of life. Jane’s cousin Eliza De Feuillide, a rich widow who married into nobility, demonstrates in a playful way the sexism that is occuring. She states,
“Flirting is a woman’s trade, one must keep in practice.”
Is there nothing else for a woman to do? Women in lower classes were shown in the movie to be servents to the wealthy or in prostitution. Nothing in ways of being equal to men!
Stereotypes came up in the movie as well. One of the comical ways that it came up was in a conversation occuring between Tom LeFroy and his uncle, Judge Langlois. The judge is upset with Tom and his ‘reputation’ and how that might look to society and in turn how that will reflect on himself and his position. Tom has come in late to court and obviously having fun as young lawyer. The conversation is quite comical and shows that maybe even then lawyers weren’t always depicted in the best light.
“Wild companions, gambling, running around St. Jame’s like a neck-or-nothing young blood of the fancy. What kind of lawyer will that make?” – Judge Langlois
“Typical.” – Tom
The movie while done to depict the early life of Jane Austen and the love of her life, also manages to depict various other things that were occuring in that time period. I great back drop for discussing the societal problems of that day and time.