The Real Jane Austen

The Real Jane Austen - Anna Chancellor

Presenter Anna Chancellor

The Real Jane Austen a 2002 one hour documentary of the life of Jane Austen is currently being re-broadcast on BBC 4.

It was presented by Anna Chancellor who you may remember as Caroline Bingley from the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice but who is also an eight times great niece of Jane Austen.

Jane Austen herself is played by Gillian Kearney – the 2008 BBC TV film Miss Austen Regrets also portraying her life had Olivia Williams in the Jane Austen role and who has become in my mind Jane Austen! – but Gillian Kearney presents a very convincing Jane Austen too. You being I presume an Austen Aficionado will know there is only one picture of Jane Austen and of which there are doubts to its accuracy – but in any case the measure of Jane Austen is her personality and spirit which is abundantly clear to all who read and understand her works. Both Olivia Williams and Gillian Kearney capture this.

The Real Jane Austen - Gillian Kearney

Gillian Kearney as Jane Austen

Her close sister Cassandra is played by Lucy Cohu.  Lucy Cohu was to have a small part in another Austen film. the biopic Becoming Jane, and which had Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen – I can feel another blog post about all the on-screen (and radio) portrayals of Jane Austen!

Their mother going only by Mrs Austen, is played by Phyllis Logan. Their father going only by Mr Austen, is played by John Standing. Neither as far as I am aware have ever acted in a Jane Austen screen-play – I note this only because most prolific British actors, as these two are, have usually acted in one such at some point in their Thespian career!

This illustrious cast of British actors also included Jack Davenport as brother Henry and Wendy Craig as Aunt Lefroy.

The program was directed and produced by Nicky Pattison.

The program explores her life in detail – her upbringing and education, her immediate family and various significant relatives. Then the upheaval of having to leave her Steventon family home for Bath which she could not endure before settling with her sister Cassandra and their mother in a cottage in Chawton on their brother Edward’s estate.

The Real Jane Austen

The Real Jane Austen, maybe!

Naturally her literary life is detailed too – her prolific precocious output and the routines and processes for her writing, to the publication of her first novel Sense and Sensibility by ‘A Lady’ – as alas at this time writing was not seen as a fit profession for a woman – with the second Pride & Prejudice by the ‘Author of Sense and Sensibility’ before the mystery of its author could be hid no more and her name finally put to her seminal works.

By the time of Emma her fame was such that the Prince Regent himself was a huge fan and wanted Emma to be dedicated to himself! Though, like many of her fellow country, she did not like or respect him, she could hardly refuse and settled on a compromise dedication.

The Real Jane Austen also addressed her love life – a brief youthful romance with Tom Lefroy, a nephew of her neighbour and who was to become the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, where he eventually abandoned her due to her not being seen as a respectable match owing to her relative poverty. Speculation also that he was source material for Mr Darcy!

Then later a marriage proposal from a brother of her friends, Harris Bigg-Wither, which she initially accepted then having slept on it rescinded the following morning. She could have had much wealth and position had she accepted but declined as could not endure a marriage without love let alone affection.

The Real Jane Austen - sister Casandra

Sister Cassandra by Lucy Cohu

She, like her sister Cassandra, whose own husband died whilst they were engaged, was destined never to marry, never to have children. Though Jane Austen often refers to her own books as her children.

The Real Jane Austen makes clear that she did eventually experience recognition of her great talents in her lifetime and some degree of fame but she can hardly have expected to become such a posthumously popular, beloved and significant author in British Literature – rubbing shoulders with both Shakespeare and Dickens.

Finally the latter stages of her life and her premature death aged 41 to an undiagnosed illness are played out.

The program reminding us that she left six great works and then asking how many more might she have written had she lived a longer life.

This program is an informative insight into the heart and mind of Jane Austen.

Miss Austen Regrets presented I think a more fitting tribute as it treated Jane Austen’s life as one of her own novels but The Real Jane Austen manages also to capture her sense and sensibility.

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3 thoughts on “The Real Jane Austen

  1. Pingback: The Save BBC 4 Campaign « Random Musings in Cyberspace

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