I watched Miss Austen Regrets last night on PBS and I don’t have too much to say about it. I thought the performances were good overall. Olivia Williams was quite good, in fact. I’m not an expert on the life of Jane Austen, but as much of the film had to be conjecture I thought they played up the regret and bitterness angle too much. The message of the film basically comes across as “if you choose your career/artistic endeavors over marriage and family (and you know you can’t have both), you will die poor and unhappy.” Meh.

Update: since I wrote this last night when I was pretty sleepy, I now feel the need to expand a little: I know that the choices faced by Jane Austen don’t compare with the choices faced by today’s women. We have the option of choosing family, or career, or both. Women in Austen’s time didn’t have “career” choices at all. They were wealthy enough (through birth or marriage) to avoid work, or they worked to live. At best, a poor gentlewoman might hope to be a governess or a teacher, but a woman’s best hope for financial provision was usually marriage. Jane Austen made a very unconventional choice, and her entire life was affected by it, in ways both good and bad. The problem with Miss Austen Regrets is that it’s a contemporary film with a 19th-century message. Were it strictly biographical, I wouldn’t object to that, but since the evidence is incomplete it seems a conscious choice of the filmmakers to emphasize the negative aspects of Austen’s life. Thus the movie becomes less a biography and more of a biased social commentary.

Again, I’m not an Austen expert. Perhaps there is more evidence for that viewpoint than I have encountered. I guess the benefit of this is that it’s inspiring me to do a little more digging for myself. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be disappointed by Miss Austen Regrets.

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