There seems to be more misinformation than correct information about the life of Jane Austen, the eccentric author of six novels including the highly lauded “Pride and Prejudice.” There is some indication that the plot in “Becoming Jane” is based on real-life events of the author. At any rate, we are given insight into what exactly contributed to the phenomenon of Jane Austen and what conspired to have her become what she was. The film is loosely based on a novel written in 2003 by Jon Hunter Spence entitled “Becoming Jane Austen.”
Portrait of Jane Austen - Wikimedia
Much of the sparse romantic life of Jane has been gleaned from a few extant letters she had written to her older sister Cassandra concerning her admiration for a certain young man named Tom Lefroy.
The events in the novel take place in England towards the end of the 18th century. Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is twenty years old and is content for the nonce to work to fulfill her ambition to be a writer. Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters) is more anxious for her daughter to find a wealthy husband which would insure that the impoverished Austen family could survive. Jane’s father (James Cromwell) is more accepting of her career ambition.
It has become obvious that Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), the nephew of the wealthy spinster Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith), is prepared to propose marriage to Jane, even though her family is not from the upper class. Jane wants nothing to do with Mr. Wisley, toward whom she feels no romantic inclination. Jane’s mother points out that she would become the mistress and heir to the luxurious Gresham estate which is slated to belong to Mr. Wisley should she accept his proposal.
Anne Hathaway - Google
In a significant scene, Jane receives a dressing-down from Lady Gresham who is unhappy with the treatment that Jane has given her nephew Mr. Wisley. She warns Jane that Mr. Wisley’s proposal may be her last opportunity to save herself from the pain of having no children, such as she herself has experienced.
When Jane is giving a reading of her works to a group of friends and relatives, Tom Lefroy (James McEvoy), the nephew of Jane’s dear friend, walks in late, disturbing the reading, and then falls asleep. Jane does not care for his arrogant and insulting manner, but the couple are soon drawn to each other which becomes noticeable to others. Tom is a law student provided for by his great-uncle Benjamin Langlois, who gives Tom an allowance which he is able to share with his parents and siblings back in Ireland. Without his uncle’s help, Tom would be penniless.
As an aside, Jane is shown in one scene writing the title “First Impressions” on a pad. This took place during the courtship of Jane and Tom Lefroy. It was much later that she changed the title “First Impressions” to “Pride and Prejudice,” her most-read novel. It is believed that Tom Lefroy was the model for the protagonist Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice.”
Tom Lefroy’s uncle, Benjamin Langlois, received an anonymous letter telling him that Jane Austen came from a penniless family and would not be a good match for Tom. Benjamin then threatened to stop Tom’s allowance if he pursued his romance with Jane. Tom obeyed and told Jane he had a responsibility to his family and could not, in conscience, marry her.
A short time later, the news reached Jane that Tom went back to Ireland and became engaged to a young lady named Mary Paul. Jane was heartbroken and sought out Mr. Wisley once again to accept his proposal.
James McEvoy - Wikimedia
While taking a walk on the grounds near her home, Jane was totally shocked to see Tom walking towards her. He declared that he could not live without her and begged her to run away with him. Jane accepted and the two secretly packed their bags and went off to London. When Tom left their room on an errand, he dropped a letter which Jane retrieved. It was from Tom’s mother, thanking him for the money he had sent, and said they could not survive without it. Jane realized at that point that they could never put Tom’s family in the position of no longer receiving part of Tom’s allowance.
The final scenes of the film were factual and were a total surprise to me. When you view this film, keep in mind that much of it is surmised by a public who worships Jane Austen and wants to believe that she had romance in her life. She did, indeed, and it formed the basis of several of her six novels. The fact is, her relationship with Tom Lefroy lasted for just one week of her life, providing the fodder for the fictional tales that were finally published long after that fateful week. The viewer would do well to follow the film up with a reading of Jon Hunter Spence’s most factual biography of Jane entitled “Becoming Jane Austin.”