Did Austen need a Man to “Become Jane?”

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Jane Austen’s writings are no doubt at the heart of shaping notions of romance held by generations of young women– and literature lovers of all ages.

Her influence in the romance realm has engendered much speculation, perhaps some bewilderment, about the never-married novelist’s sources for ideas and inspiration about the subject.

All imagined? Must’ve had a very fertile mind, indeed.

Scholarly and populist speculation about spinster Jane’s inexplicable insights seem to center around a brief encounter the 20-year old Austen may have had with Thomas Lefroy. Based on the very sketchy evidence that such an affair ever took place (and no sound information what so ever about the nature of the relationship), the fictionalized Austen biopic, “Becoming Jane,” suggests that the marvelous characters and adventures Austen spins in her beloved tales are based upon her experiences during this perhaps imaginary figment of her life.

Possible? Sure. But so is the converse– that details of the biopic’s romantic encounter are based on the plots and people of “Pride and Prejudice” and Austen’s other well read novels.

From this curious ether of inuendo, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists draws the question, as reflected in members’ reviews of the film, whether “Becoming Jane” implies that Austen couldn’t have been a great artist without a man to give her the experience, inspiration, encouragement and strength to find her means of expression.

Is this an unstated message that underlies only “Becoming Jane,” or is it a standard assumption in other fictionalized biopics about great women artists?

,p>What do you think?

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).