03 February 2008

Miss Austen Regrets

I find fictionalized biographies distasteful. I realize most biographical films have fictionalized moments, where the script hypothisizes what the characters most likely said. That I can forgive. What I cannot forgive is the total fabrication of details of events for which we only have skeletal outlines. This is why I avoided Becoming Jane last year. I have read enough biographers' tales of Miss Austen to know that whatever the film presented with be hypothetical to the extreme, much like playing Pin the Tale on the Donkey, only with a real person's life. From the reviews I read, I was not mistaken. Also, it was tantamount to treason to cast an American as Jane Austen. But I digress. All of this is to say that I faced tonight's Miss Austen Regrets with some trepidation. It said it was based on her letters and writings, but we all know Cassandra burnt most of those. So I was not prepared for how moving, poignant, and engaging this was.

I do hope you all watched this film. What struck me was how much hasn't changed, especially for those of us of the LDS faith. Granted, money is no longer such a sore spot in the equation. We can have a career and build up a 401k and make our own safety net, but as single women in a religiously orthodox culture, we face some the same stigmas thrown at Miss Austen throughout the film. Of the conversations with her niece, her brothers, her mother, all were of the hypothetical nature I dislike, but they felt real. The words might have come from a scriptwriter, but I don't doubt that at some point she faced all those conversations and more. Lest you think I'm being melodramatic, I will give a case in point:

Today in Young Women's (the LDS Church's program for girls between 12 and 18) the lesson was entitled "Preparing to Become an Eternal Companion" and the two major emphasises were on spiritual preparation and homemaking skills. I must compliment the woman who taught, as she did strive to make sure the girls understood that these skills were useful regardless of whether you marry or not, but that didn't mean I felt less of a fool during the lesson. Much like the conflict between Miss Austen and her niece Fanny, how am I to advise these girls on any of the lessons on marriage and family this year? In their adolescent minds, my single-ness undermines anything I might have to say on the subject.

Returning to the subject of career, how many of my single women readers have had it suggested to them that if they weren't so "career-oriented" they might happen upon a husband? How many have heard the words "not getting any younger" uttered in their presence, about them or, more likely, someone else in a similar situation? Does it occur to no one that building a future, a safety net, self-reliance, is what we have to do? We cannot stay at home and keep house for our mothers and fathers, just wishing and hoping that The One (if such a creature does, indeed, exist) to magically appear on our doorstep. We do not need to have the brilliance, grandeur, and wonder of wifehood and motherhood dictated to us repeatedly. We have seen it in the lives our friends who find happiness and joy in those roles. We have also seen the sorrow of ill-advised marriages, the pain of divorce, and the misery of choosing poorly.

The sum of this ranting is to say that I loved Miss Austen Regrets. It struck a chord with me. Maybe the reason I love her works so much is that I believe I sense a kindred spirit. Her books are about women fighting their own faults and the judgements and follies of others to make their right choice, to find their own happiness. Miss Austen walked a different path than the great majority of her peers; maybe she regretted it, maybe not. But her enduring legacy is that she did it bravely.

9 comments:

cherbear said...

I've always felt like "church (LDS)people" think that as young girls we're supposed to just wait around for our "future husband" to show up. We can't do that in today's world. There are so many benefits to being independent and having a career. We can help our husbands, once married, earn income and save up for a home or other necessities. And what happens if our husband dies or leaves? If we have a career already, it's that much easier to find a job and support the family. There are just too many reasons to not "wait around" for someone to sweep us off our feet.

esperanza said...

Was this a KSPS PBS production? I haven't heard of it--. I would love to see it, I actually like fictionalized biographies, I admit. It would be interesting to compare that one to Becoming Jane. I liked most of Becoming Jane however. Is this rent-able of a new production?

aquamarine said...

BRAVO! Scully I think your point is remarkable and the judgment of others should have little baring on our choices of what is right for our own lives. Each person has their own path to follow, lessons to learn, and in so doing lead different sorts of lives. As for careers, I think invaluable to be able to be self-sufficient. I myself have not been able to do that as of yet, but plan on it. The future is so uncertain and should definitely be planned for, for all kinds of circumstances.

As for Miss Austen Regrets, I found it quite good. I think it resonated with my independent nature.

Scully said...

E, I'm pretty sure it was a British production of some sort, as it was a Masterpiece Classic presentation. They were promoting the DVD after the show so it might be rentable. You might be able to request it from your public library too.

Thanks for the kudos, Aquamarine.

esperanza said...

Is it new then or old?

Saxon said...

to not "wait around" for someone to sweep us off our feet.

of course it's hard to find a girl to sweep off her feet as so many seem to be leaving for the USA these days

Treat Queen said...

I'm glad there are better biographies out there than Becoming Jane. I was rather disappointed with that one.
I hate how LDS culture and doctrine can be so different sometimes. If people truly understood the gospel, they would realize that the Lord leads us to where we need to be, and if we haven't gotten married yet, don't you think we've talked to Him about that yet? If they have problems with it, they can talk to Him. Just don't tell me about it.
And I think my problem is that I've been preparing for "Mr. Right" for so long, that I've surpassed all the boys who think they are 'Mr. Right' and they just aren't good enough. But I still keep waiting for the Lord to prove me wrong.

Heidi said...

Beautifully written Scully! I couldn't agree with you or Treat Queen (whom I don't even think I know) more! In fact, I was just reading about - I'm pretty sure is was Camilla Kimball addressing BYU students. I guess she told them that she really hoped they weren't there just to find a husband. I loved the Relief Society message in last month's Ensign about "mother hearts". I have so many friends that someday will make the greatest wives and mothers b/c they are just the most amazing women! I don't understand all of the judgemental attitudes about marriage and babies and for that reason I couldn't stand Fanny in that movie! I'm so glad you made an exception and watched it! I was lucky to catch that one (all but the first 10 minutes and few in the middle)!!!

katharine said...

i know this won't make you feel any better, but i didn't pay any attention to anything i ever heard in young women's -- about anything. (i can't even remember the names of most of my leaders).
now, about being swept off their feet, i gave up on that long ago. i wish there wasn't such a dichotomy in the minds of lds women 'can't we all just get along?'. i always hear how hard it is to be single and i always hear how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mom with half a dozen young children...the grass is always greener... we all choose something to be unhappy about, it doesn't matter really what it actually is. and we pretend like we are victims of culture. and maybe we are.