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Friday, March 14, 2008

Masterpiece: Miss Austen Regrets

Approaching her fortieth birthday, Jane Austen appears happily unmarried. When asked by her young niece Fanny to help her vet potential husbands, Jane's confident composure is threatened as she finds herself looking back on her own potential suitors and the choices she has made. Could potential family financial ruin have been averted if she'd accepted the proposal of a wealthy landowner? And what about the handsome young physician Jane meets as a result of a family illness?

Despite the title, however, Austen is no shrinking violet prone to recriminations, rather she sees her novels as beloved children and the decision not to wed as vital to the freedom she enjoyed in birthing them. As for men, she says tartly, "I never found one worth giving up flirting for."

This isn't to say Austen is without self-doubts, lamenting at one point how "small" her work is, unable to know the enduring success she would achieve beyond her lifetime. Left somewhat fuzzy, meanwhile, are the details surrounding Cassandra dissuading Jane from marrying early in life -- a union that would have secured her economic future -- though as presented, the bond between the sisters is both strong and moving. The narrative also introduces a trio of Jane's former suitors, among them a since-married reverend, who has clearly never gotten over her.

Based on the life and letters of Jane Austen, Miss Austen Regrets tells the story of the novelist's final years, examining why, despite setting the standard for romantic fiction, she died having never married or met her own Mr. Darcy.

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