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The true love life of Jane Austen : how it inspired her career

A chronicle by Marie-Laure Massei

In October 2007, French cinemagoers had the pleasure of discovering Jane, a film directed by Julian Jarrold, which had been released in Great Britain in March 2007 under a thought-provoking title : Becoming Jane. This entertaining movie portrays the early love life of a major British novelist, Jane Austen, who was born in December 1775 in Steventon (Hampshire) and who died in July 1817 in Winchester. Based on Jon Spence’s biography, published in 2003 and entitled Becoming Jane Austen, Jane is a speculative biopic of Austen’s presumed romance with the young Irish lawyer Thomas Lefroy, which took place around Christmas 1795.

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Anne Hathaway was chosen to play the lead: this American actress definitely entered the mature phase of her career with her roles in Brokeback Mountain and in The Devil Wears Prada, starring opposite Meryl Streep in 2006. The hero, Tom Lefroy, is played by the rising Scots actor James McAvoy, who made a brilliant performance in the Last King of Scotland in 2006.
Now, what do we really know about Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy’s love story? To what extent is this screen representation of an intimate episode in Austen’s life reliable? In the end, is Anne Hathaway a “becoming Jane”?
These are the main questions we will focus on by analyzing extracts of Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra and exploring this mysterious period of her life.

1- First, let’s talk about the plot:

Jane Austen is the younger daughter of Reverend George Austen (played by James Cromwell) and his wife (portrayed by Julie Walters), who belong to the impoverished country gentry: like Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813), the business of Mrs Austen’s life is to get her daughters married – and well-married if possible – especially Jane, since Cassandra is already engaged to Tom Fowle. Thus, the second sentence in the film is Mrs Austen’s exclamation: “That girl needs a husband!!” which obviously means a suitable husband! But at the beginning of the film, the 20-year-old Jane is only interested in literature. Therefore, she refuses the marriage proposal of Mr Wisley, the nephew of the aristocratic and haughty Lady Gresham (played by a Maggie Smith who reminds us of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, in Pride and Prejudice).
Like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Jane begins to take marriage seriously only after she encounters Tom Lefroy, a promising lawyer with a reputation. Entirely dependent upon the will of his uncle and benefactor, the wealthy Judge Langlois (played by the late Ian Richardson), Tom Lefroy has just been sent to the country to visit relatives and ponder over his misconduct in town. Jane has a very bad first impression of him (which, by the way, accounts for Pride and Prejudice’s original title, First Impressions); she cannot stand the self-centered young man, portrayed as a dissipated, arrogant and impertinent rogue. Even if Tom first sneers at Jane’s country ways and ingenuous(...)

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