From the Archives of the BBC: The Real Jane Austen

In 2002, Anna Chancellor (Miss Bingley in the 1995 Pride & Prejudice) hosted a wonderful little documentary about her beloved great-aunt. Here’s a link to the video.

This might not sound like news, but Chancellor’s beloved Great-Aunt Jane, is, well THE Aunt Jane. It’s a delightful documentary, no super-hot takes, but dramatizes Austen’s life from birth to death with dramatized interviews with some of her beloved parents and siblings. What is perhaps most heartening is how Chancellor clearly adores Austen. It’s always wonderful to learn when someone in a great adaptation is not only an interpreter of Austen, but a Janeite (with a family connection, no less).

As a sidenote, when dramatizing the infamous rejected proposal made by Mr. Harris Bigg-Wither from Jane Austen’s own life, the actor playing her rejected suitor is depicted as “a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty” (Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 13). This is keeping in line with the description of Mr. Collins from Pride & Prejudice.

Elizabeth Bennet’s unwelcome would-be husband is eventually fobbed off on twenty-seven year-old Charlotte Lucas, the same age as when Austen rejected the idea of marriage to a man she did not love and possibly found ridiculous.

But although all of the many major adaptations of Pride & Prejudice depict Mr. Collins as unacceptable in some dramatic way–too old, too greasy, too ugly, too heavy, too Doctor Who (Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies), too short, or, in the case of the 2005, possibly on the autism spectrum–none of the actors really look like how the character is depicted in the novel. In fact, not to name titles, but I’ve read some JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) that really goes on about how short Mr. Collins is, clearly showing the influence of film and television.

Even this popular illustration from the 1923 Chapman edition which is closer to Austen’s text and shows the tiny brave Elizabeth furiously sewing while being menaced by a large, bullying man makes him look a bit older.

Who knows what future adaptations may yield? Hopefully we shall see Anna Chancellor in at least one more of her great-aunt’s works, in my lifetime.

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