So I watched Miss Austen Regrets this past Sunday on PBS. It’s a new biopic on Jane Austen’s life. Set towards the end of her life (she died at the young age of 41), it was definitely a much darker and more complex characterization of her life.
I really like Jane Austen for so many reasons and feel a connection to her. First, she’s given us all these great books and heroines and heros to look up to, to admire, to sigh over. Secondly, I think her personal life parallels mine.
Most poeple think that traditional, courtship culture doesn’t exist nowadays, but I’m here to tell you it does!!! Yes! Among Muslim cultures. Ours is the most relentless marriage culture that ever existed. Like Jane we cannot have pre-marital relations or ‘date’. Somehow we have to find husbands before we are considered spinsters and like in Jane’s era we have our own balls that are conferences, conventions, private dinner parties and so on. Guys rate girls on their beauty, families, and so on and girls rate guys on their wealth/family. Come on, admit that you do it too. For certain the mothers do. Our line would be: It is truth universally acknowledged that as soon as a Muslim guy graduates from med school, he’s in need of a wife! And we definitely do have our own matchmaking mamas and the usual struggle of marrying as per our parent’s wishes for establishment versus holding out to marry for love.
In Miss Austen Regrets it seems that Jane held out and ended up living a pretty miserable life, worried about continuing financial problems of her whole family, being shuttled between brothers who had their own difficulties, having a sister who lost her fiancee and selfishly didn’t want Jane to marry either, a mother who continually harped on past refusals of Jane. Someone said in a review that it probably wasn’t realistic that her mother was like that. Well news to you, every desi mother is like that, and she reminds her daughter everyday about her unmarried status. So I can see it as very likely. It’s in a benevolent way of course, mothers want the best for their daughters. You can’t blame them for trying to stay within societal norms.
Many times in the film you find a melancholy Jane looking out at the water or staring at nothing, showing perhaps her regrets. The film shows a few of her ‘lost loves’. The first being her wealthy ‘tall and awkward’ neighbor whose proposal she accepted only to change her mind the next day. Then there’s her sister in law’s brother who she refused and he went on to marry someone else. And a few others. But I have to say, I don’t think she regretted anything. Looking back on my own life, I can’t say I regret refusing anyone or making certain choices. Even though like Jane, I ended up alone. Those were the tough choices I had to make, I couldn’t have made any other. Watching these films, you might think, oh she should have just married the neighbor what was the harm. Easy for you to say! How would you like a forced marriage with a Mr. Collins or even a slimy John Thorpe. Not so appealing now huh. They’re not even possibilities you know?
So Jane had her tumultuous life and had a niece she tried to advise like I have my niece (but she’s a little too young for marriage advice yet). Jane wrote on and off during her life, as I try to be creative here and there. Her birthday is the same as mine. Her father was bookish and scholarly, mine is a professor. She is humorous, yet dark at times like I am mostly. Like Jane if I had a family or children I doubt I would have been creative or been able to do the things I’ve so far done in my life.
In the end Jane says she ‘lived the life that God intended for her.’ And I believe the same for me.