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A serial flirt with a taste for drink and toyboys: How the REAL Jane Austen is portrayed in a new drama based on her own letters
An incorrigible flirt with a crush on a man half her age, a woman who scandalously reneges on the acceptance of a marriage proposal, and a reveller familiar with hangovers because of her penchant for wine.
The above depiction of Jane Austen has already sent shudders down the corsets of her fans worldwide, for this little-known side to the early 19th-century author is the subject of a new BBC costume drama, Miss Austen Regrets.
Many of us are familiar with the swoon-inducing romance of her novels, from Pride And Prejudice to Sense And Sensibility and Mansfield Park.
Her powerful characters, combined with her biting social commentary, have made her one of the most widely-read and best-loved writers in literature.
But the facts about the author's life are in short supply as Austen (played by Olivia Williams in the film) never wrote a memoir, never sat for an interview and never recorded whether she herself had felt the joys and disappointments of the love about which she writes.
To make matters worse, when Jane died, aged 41, her sister Cassandra burned many of her letters - probably to spare the feelings of relatives and acquaintances who were the target of Jane's barbs.
The characters and incidents in the film - exquisitely shot at Hall Barn, Buckinghamshire, where Sense And Sensibility, Gosford Park and Chariots Of Fire were also made - are drawn from the correspondence that does survive between Jane and Cassandra, and Jane and her niece Fanny Knight.
They examine why, despite all the love stories filling her rich imagination, Jane, who embodied the brilliant wit and high spirits of her heroines, did not take the plunge into matrimony herself.
"People who think of Jane Austen as a little country mouse who was reserved around men will be shocked," reveals Gwyneth Hughes, who wrote the script after painstakingly scouring Austen's letters for revealing new insights into the author's life.
She comes across as more waspish than ever before. In fact, Jane was described by her contemporary, writer Mary Russell Mitford, as the "prettiest, silliest, most affected husband-hunting butterfly ever".
"She really liked witty repartee and she was very comfortable in male company," says Hughes. "The flirting is clear from her letters, especially where she says tartly: 'I never married because I never met anyone worth giving up flirting for.'"
She certainly never seemed to find her own Mr Darcy and therein lies the crux of the plot of Miss Austen Regrets, where Jane jokes: "I am she that loved and lost", and says to Fanny: "My darling girl, this is the real world - the only way to get a man like Mr Darcy is to make him up."
Olivia Williams's Austen is no shrinking violet. She sees her novels as beloved children and the decision not to wed as vital to her giving birth to them.
It is not simply the tale of Austen's life, which began in Hampshire with her six brothers and sister in a family on the lower fringes of gentry.
Phyllida Law plays Jane's mother, and Williams in the lead role brings across all the confidence of a woman who began writing novels at 15.
The real Jane mixed frequently with friends and neighbours, and read novels (often her own) aloud with her family in the evenings. This socialising often led to dancing, either impromptu in someone's home after supper, or at balls held at the assembly rooms in the town hall.
One of her brothers, Henry, later said that: "Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it."