The Art of 'Becoming Jane'

A Watercolour of Jane Austen By Her Sister Cassandra

I found myself unable to sleep last night, my mind running a thousand million laps around the tableau and dilemmas that has so coloured my life of late. The sequential circuits living and reliving my previous choices, current chosen events and the myriads of pathways that lie ahead, ripe for the picking.

Anyway, attempting to assuage my restless boredom, I turned on the television and found myself looking at the opening credits to 'Becoming Jane', a scrumptious movie based upon the events surrounding the life and times of the great English novelist, Jane Austen.

Truthfully, I have always wanted to watch 'Becoming Jane', ever since I saw its preview on the television. However, given the fact that even my fascination with 'Pride & Prejudice' as well as its author, is something that would normally require the strength of a thousand wild horses to pry from the well of my deepest secretive desires, I never actually took it upon myself to watch it, especially not in the presence of others.

It is not as if I don't openly availed of myself to female authors and their literary offerings. Enid Blyton and Rosemary Sutcliffe, for example, being often prominently amongst those whose books are or were my constant companion.

I grew up to Enid Blyton's tales of life's tales and adventures from The Faraway Tree to the Crabapple Farm, with the Secret Seven to the Famous Five and exploring the familiar hallways of The Malory Towers to the mysteries at the ends of the earth with the Wishing Chair stories. Indeed it would not surprise me if I has read all of her books.

As for Rosemary Sutcliffe, her works regaled a young little me (okay, maybe not so little) with tales of Roman Britain, culminating with the Eagle of The Ninth which evoked in me a love for classical history and an ardent interest in Rome and her legions.

There are also other female authors, amongst the many whose books I have read and liked, ranging from the likes of the madam of mystery Agatha Christie to Dragonlance dame Margerat Weis and Deverry's architect, Katherine Kerr.

But of Pride & Prejudice and Jane Austen, I often dared not confess to my fascination with a certain Ms. Elizabent Bennet and indeed would have not usually tell a soul of my roving mind, which often paints myself into the shoes of the aloof and reserved Mr. Darcy, whose qualities I find admirable and imagined to possess in common.

Most probably because of the connotations one often link with a Jane Austen novel. It being refered to by many as a 'chick-lit' and its attendant 'chick-flick'. One has to preserve one's image, no matter how ephemeral it really is, I suppose.

Though in that inky comfort and cozy cover of the dark camouflage of night, I decided to indulge my fancies and gingerly perused the movie to its ending. Truth be told, I am glad that I did.

Like many have concluded in their review, 'Becoming Jane' puts many things in perspective, about Jane Austen, her live, loves, accomplishments and loss. Opening a window, so to speak, into the tale of this wonderful woman, beyond the footnotes of her works.

I guess it is true that the best, most effective and easiest way to write, is to write what you know. A lesson that many literary venerables has tried to impress upon me in the workshops that I have attended and the times I was fortunate to engage in a conversation with them.

As the story in the movie shows us, Jane Austen's writing mainly draws upon her own life, her own time and her own experience. That is probably why her tales are so vivid. Because she writes what she knows.

The places, the characters and the situations she described most eloquently are written with the quill of her own life and inked with her own experiences. Which is why they become so alive, so real, so honest and so believable.

While the names were changed, characters and descriptions were juxtaposed and scrambled, all of her stories without doubt is her watercolour of her own life. Unable to pursue her own happiness, she lived her life in the only place possible, within the tales told by her books. Filling in the blanks of what ifs and what could be with her fertile imagination. Following perhaps the advice of another novelist, Mrs. Radcliffe that Jane met in the story and who told Jane, "for everything else, that is what your imagination is for."

In many ways, Jane Austen can be likened to Ian Fleming, another more contemporary author whose life is the wellspring from which sprang his tales and stories. As any who read his life's story would know, many of the things James Bond did, Ian Fleming more or less did too, or at least he knew someone who did.

Another point of origin that links them is the fact that both suffered from the loss of love or a loved one. Jane losing her Mr. Lefroy because of circumstance and Fleming, if the movie about his days in British Intelligence is correct, lost a love to a bomb meant for him, planted by Germany's agents.

Based on this convergence of their story, maybe the other so called truth about writing is correct as well. Other then writing what you know, the oft mentioned tale is that in order to truly write, a writer but first be hurt before he or she can lift the pen.

In a way, this is similar to the sayings about how you must first feel the blues to play the blues.

The ways to better prose, write what you know and you must first feel hurt. I find myself agreeing with the former, though I am not that aligned with the latter. But in retrospect, maybe what it implies by 'hurt' is that we must fist experience life before we can write of it.

But beyond the pointers on how to become, like Jane, a good writer, the story also leaves a lesson or two swimming in my noggin. A lessons and tale of the frail and faulty links between affection, love and circumstance.

Affection is all too common, it can stem from many things. From common ground, to common tastes, to a commonality of various likes and purposes. Or just the opposite, it can stem from a difference that clash and draw sparks or an incandescence when two opposites reach out. Like jigsaw pieces fitting in and lining up.

As its myriad origins, so too can affection grow to become many things. From flirtation to friendship, to understanding and care. Or all the way to love and its subtle dare. Or perhaps to naught at all, like two occasioned strangers who shared a moment from across the room and then disappear into the sea of faces. Leaving only faded memories as to that shared affectionate moment.

Though for those that do attain the very paragon, when affection transcends into love, it is not the and all, be all of things. For love dooms as often as it blesses. Sometimes, practicality overrides all and the necessities of life dictates that love is for naught. Sometimes there are other concerns that requires loves sacrifice. Like Lefroy with his impoverished family in Limerick whose livelihood depends upon him sharing his stipend from his uncle. Which in turn disallowed him from marrying his lady love.

Other times, one may find oneself learning of love, not through affection but familiarity, for life deals us cards that we have to live with rather than what we want to live as. As Henry Austen's example who must concede to marry the countess for her money. While they have no affection, their love stems from understanding and acceptance, a no less authentic love but one that many of us may have to accept. Circumstance often overrides emotions.

At times, love can itself be the root of unhappiness, loliness and suffering, as we know all to well of Jane's sadness. Her unrequited and unfulfilled love.

At times, love can even lead to bitterness. As evidenced by a spurned secret suitor of Jane's who sent the letter to Lefroy's uncle and discredited Jane from any marriage to Lefroy.

But maybe above all these tales, love is the key. To life and to writing. For it is love and passion for knowledge and writing that started Jane's journey and love for live and its adventures that kept her going.

I guess the end of becoming Jane, the person or author, shows that one must live ones' life and be immersed in the nitty gritty of it. For only when one has lived and loved, regardless if it is consummated or unrequited, can one be in a position to write of it.

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