After watching the film, it struck me that biopics about the life of the author inadvertently contribute to the death of the author. That is, such films frequently represent authorship as transcription or collage; the author's own unique contribution frequently gets lost in the mix. On the one hand, Becoming Jane does want to argue in favor of the imagination, in the form of Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe. Radcliffe's bestsellers derive, we are told, from an mental "landscape," a wild and eerie place pointedly not embodied in her reserved, restrained figure and rather shabby setting. And Jane's own plots, we are also eventually told, will also be unreal, if in a different sense: although Jane initially rejects the comforts of poetic justice in Fielding's Tom Jones, the novel which is also the source of her sexual awakening (this is one of the more literate seduction techniques in recent memory, I must say), her experience of romantic loss teaches her the need for stories in which everyone gets their just rewards. In that sense, the film detaches fiction from "real life." Yet, on the other hand, the film adheres to the biopic's conventions for representing inspiration, and these conventions make fiction very much a direct product of the author's biography. Jane even gets the first line of her novel from the unprepossessing Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox, of the omnipresent Fox acting clan). Strictly speaking, there's nothing inaccurate about this convention; after all, Charlotte Bronte turned William Carus Wilson into Mr. Brocklehurst, Charles Dickens kept recycling his childhood experience of poverty, and so on. But this turn to biography eventually becomes troubling, I think, when it confuses why the author might have been drawn to put such-and-such in a text with what such-and-such actually does there.
12 August 2007
Authorship as collage
The Little Professor on Becoming Jane: