Becoming George?

I was interviewed recently by our campus news service about Becoming Jane–not about the movie exactly (fortunately, as I haven’t actually seen it) but about Austen’s popular appeal. I found myself thinking that really, if movie makers (and movie audiences) want a bio-pic about a woman writer’s interesting, sexy life, they should really be working on Becoming George. Isn’t the transformation of country girl (and preachy evangelical) Marianne Evans into leading intellectual, free-thinker, strong-minded woman, and renowned novelist George Eliot really as good as (really, better than) anything someone could make up about a 19th-century woman’s life, and true, to boot (which is more than can confidently be said about Becoming Jane)? If I were directing, I’d begin (and possibly end) with Marian and Lewes leaving on the boat for Germany in 1854:

George: “You know what they’ll say about us–about you…There’s no going back from a step like this; it will mean the end of your life as a respectable woman.”

Marian: “I’ve made my decision. And every ending is also a beginning…”

And then flashbacks (with lots of voice-overs drawing on her letters and diaries) to take us from her childhood through her intellectual awakening and ‘holy war’, to her life among the London intellegentsia, the interlude with Chapman (I guess there would need to be some speculative in-filling there), the disastrous ‘romance’ with Herbert Spencer, and the development of her relationship with Lewes, complete with asides about his unconventional domestic arrangements. The story has everything: rebellion, romance, and ideas. Casting would be challenging, of course. You’d need someone graceful, charismatic, low-voiced, and plain for the main part (sorry, no place for Anne Hathaway here), and someone sprightly, charismatic, maybe slightly manic, and homely for Lewes (any ideas?).

Such a film would accomplish for a general audience what one of her contemporaries (reviewing John Cross’s biography) hoped for: “the salt and spice will be restored to the records of George Eliot’s entirely unconventional life.” It might even send people to her novels with a new appreciation for what she risked and achieved in them. Of course it will never happen, will it? Too bad! But then, apparently there is a big-screen version of Middlemarch in the works, so maybe her time is coming.

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