Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miss Austen Regrets

Coming to PBS this Sunday is a production entitled Miss Austen Regrets, starring Olivia Williams as Jane Austen. Those of you familiar with some of the earlier Austen productions will remember her as Jane Fairfax in the 1996 production of Emma made for television and starring Kate Beckinsale. Those of you unfamiliar with that production may recognize her as Bruce Willis's wife in The Sixth Sense; oh — and you can see the 1996 version of Emma on March 23, 2008.

I'm very interested to see what they do with this production, which primarily focuses on the end of Jane Austen's life. Jane died in 1817 at the age of 41, most likely from a condition known as Addison's disease, which is, if I understand it correctly, a form of tuberculosis that affects the kidneys. Jane had never married, although not because of a lack of suitors; she received at least one marriage proposal, which she accepted, only to rescind her acceptance the next day.

The film is largely derived from Jane's correspondence with her niece, Fanny, who was at that time entering the "marriage market", as well as other correspondence between Jane and her sister, Cassandra, as well as from biographical information and surmise. I'm keen on seeing what percentage of surmise there is before I decide whether I think this production is justified or not.

In the meantime, I'm off to work on my own Jane Project, which is, for those who might not know, essentially a biography of Jane Austen told in verse using period forms. I'm still wrestling with the last six lines of a particular sonnet that has now occupied me for about two weeks. But to quote Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 P&P (coming back to PBS in February for a three-week run): I shall conquer this. I shall!

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