“Becoming Jane” opended in the San Francisco Bay Area on Friday, and my friend jim (who helped design my website) and I went to the first matinee. I had mixed feelings–gorgeous period atmosphere and some great acting, but I have a hard time believing the woman who could dissect characters with such keenness and compassion was as self-absorbed as Jane struck me in the movie (I found myself most sympathetic to her rejected suitor, Mr. Wisley). But one thing I did think the movie captured well was the way marriage and money were inextricably bound together. This is a theme I confess I quite missed in Austen’s novels when I first read them (in fairness, I was under ten at the time) and which I notice more and more rereading them now.
I thought the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee adaptation of “Sense & Sensibility” captured the tension between love and the demands of financial security (and the different choices different characters make when faced with this dilemma) brilliantly. That final image of the shower of gold coins Colonel Brandon tosses in the air at the wedding is at once so exquisitely beautiful and so subtly ironic. (I just finished re-watching “Sense & Sensibility” today, my treat to get through working out :-). Love in a garret sounds romantic in theory, but it is difficult for love to survive in the face of privation, as Jane tells Tom toward the end of “Becoming Jane” and as a sadder-but-wiser Marianne says to Elinor in “Sense & Sensibility”. And the lovers aren’t always only risking themselves by abandoning all for love. What convinces Jane she has to give Tom up in “Becoming Jane” is the realization that his family is dependent on him. In the recent Deobrah Moggach/Joe Wright adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice”, in the scene where Elizabeth insists to her parents that she won’t marry Mr. Collins, for the first time I believed that Elizabeth was really afraid both her parents would insist on the marriage. Which brought home that to me that in turning down a stlfling, loveless marriage with Mr. Collins, Elizabeth is turning down security for her mother and sisters as well as herself.
All of which got to thinking about my own characters (as books and movies inevitably do). Charles and Mélanie live in the same world as the characters in “Becoming Jane” and in Austen’s novels, but they are comfortably insulated by Charles’s fortune. Charles knows that “he and his brother and sister had taken it for granted that htey would always have their rambling, centuries-old house to live in, with a fire and wax candles in the schoolroom in the bargain. Whatever emotional deprivations they had suffered, they had never questioned that ample meals would be set before them each day on the second-best Spode china.” With a comfortable fortune inherited from his mother (and the heir to more from his ducal grandfather), Charles had no need to seek his estranged father’s consent before marrying a penniless French/Spanish war orphan with no surviving family. Mélanie is keenly aware that she owes her position in society, her beautiful home, the food she eats and the stylish clothes she wears all to her husband’s fortune. Their marriage, in so many ways a model of equality, will never be equal in that. Even before Charles learns the full truth behind the reasons she married him, he knows that one of the things he offered her was an escape from poverty and privation.
Have you seen “Becoming Jane” or do you plan to? Any thoughts on how the theme of love and fortune is handled in “Becoming Jane” or in Austen’s novels or the film adaptatins or other Regency-set books?
And don’t forget to check out the Fraser Correspondence. I just posted a new letter, which concerns the birth of Charles and Mélanie’s son Colin.