Jane Austen was the daughter of Reverend George Austen and his wife, Cassandra. When she was 26 years old, Jane was well past the age to marry for a woman of that time. Spinsterhood seemed to be her destiny. Her dear friends, the two Bigg girls, had a brother Harris, whom Jane knew from an early age. Jane was a frequent visitor at their home, Manydown, through the friendship of their parents.
Jane Austen - Wikimedia
Harris Bigg had money and position and could offer Jane a lifetime of security and comfort. His plain and awkward mien was not attractive, however. He did not appear to be a good match for the bright and witty Jane Austen when he proposed to her in 1802. Jane accepted his proposal, and then retracted it the next day. It seems that she never regretted it.
The story is often told that the year prior to Harris Bigg’s proposal, Jane had fallen in love with a young man who was charming and intelligent; he was possibly a clergyman like her father. He was forced to be away for several months, and Jane received a notice that he had passed away unexpectedly.
The BBC movie “Miss Austen Regrets” begins twelve years after she turned down Mr. Bigg’s proposal of marriage. Jane (Olivia Williams) has been asked for her advice from her niece Fanny Knight (Imogen Poots) who wants very much to be married, and is hoping that her present suitor, John Plumbtree (John Hiddleston), will ask for her hand in marriage. It would appear that Jane, in her spinsterhood, would be the most unlikely person to give Fanny advice on the matter.
Olivia Williams - Wikimedia
Jane has had a great deal of success with her novels, particularly “Pride and Prejudice,” and at the time of her niece’s request, Jane was in the process of writing her latest novel “Emma.” Throughout the film, the viewer becomes privy to Jane’s mental meanderings concerning her heroine Emma, and it is clear that she used her personal experiences to give a sense of reality to the characters in her novels.
Jane’s Advice to Fanny
Although Mr. Plumbtree seemed to be an adequate suitor for Fanny, Jane appeared to discourage Fanny from the match, claiming that the worst misery would be to be bound to someone without love. Fanny claimed that she loved Plumbtree, but Jane considered that a 20-year-old girl had no idea what love really is. As it happens, Mr. Plumbtree was on the verge of proposing to Fanny one day, but he thought mistakenly that she was laughing at him, and walked away from the scene. Having been slighted by Fanny, Plumbtree went off to marry someone else.
Imogen Poots - Wikimedia
We learn much of the story from the letters Jane writes to her sister Cassandra (Greta Scacchi). Their brother Edward Austen Knight (Pip Torrens) has seen to it that Cassandra, as well as Mrs. Austen, are well taken care of financially. Jane has a modest income from the sale of her books, but her brother sees to it that she also is taken care of. Edward is the father of Fanny, who seeks Jane’s advice on her future plans.
Jane’s Brother Henry Requires a Doctor
Jane and Cassandra’s other brother Henry (Adrian Edmondson) had been in poor health and suffered a heart attack while visiting Jane. Since Henry did not have a regular doctor, Jane was obliged to find a physician who would look after Henry’s situation. She found the perfect solution in a young man, just starting out on his medical career, and was available to visit Henry frequently. That man was Doctor Charles Hayden (Jack Huston), a handsome young doctor with a pleasant personality. He became a household fixture and was invited often for meals and the evening’s entertainment. It appeared that Charles was quite interested in Fanny and listened attentively when she showed her skills at the pianoforte.
Jack Huston - Wikimedia
Jane Advises Fanny Again
When Fanny confided to Jane that she was very interested in Charles Hayden, Jane again discouraged her, stating that doctors did not make a great deal of money. This seemed out of character for Jane who had always proposed, not only in her books, but in her advice to Fanny, that love was the most important ingredient for a happy marriage. Fanny jokingly told her Aunt Jane that she thought that Jane was attracted to Charles Hayden for herself. This was not far off the mark, for Jane did have feelings for the doctor even though he was much younger than she. Charles evidently had no interest in Jane or in Fanny, for he was no longer present in their home when Henry’s health became stable.
Jane learned from Henry that he was deeply in debt and was about to lose his home and experience financial ruin. His troubles had brought on his illness. Both she and her brother Edward would help Henry through his crisis. He indicated that he would like to start a career as a vicar, which he did succeed in doing before the end of the film.
Hugh Bonneville - Wikimedia
Another Former Love of Jane’s
The next visitor to their home was an old friend of the family, Rev. Brook Bridges (Hugh Bonneville). The reader may know Hugh Bonneville from his portrayal of Robert Crowley, the Earl of Grantham, in the BBC series “Downton Abbey.” It seems that Rev. Bridges and Jane had a romantic relationship several years ago, during which he did propose to Jane, and she turned him down. She had long since decided that marriage was not in the picture for her.
It seemed that they would have been a perfect match for each other. In fact, Bridges said to Jane that day that he would never have objected to her writing if they had been married. Jane brought up the fact that the time involved in raising children would preclude any woman from being a successful writer. Rev. Brooks did go on to marry another. They both agreed that they were happy in their present lives.
Greta Scacchi - Wikimedia
Criticism of the Film
My only criticism of the film is that Jane’s opinions on love and marriage, as stated in the film, did not coincide with the picture she portrayed for her heroines in her novels. The film displayed a bitter side to her which her fans would disagree with.
To learn more about the stories surrounding Jane Austen’s love life, the reader might want to view the film “Becoming Jane” which gives additional details of the life of the woman who wrote six of the best English novels ever written.