Deborah Yaffe

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Fun! Inspirational! But not Jane Austen!

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 5 2015 01:00PM

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for awhile may stop here. You’ve heard what I’m going to say: They’re misquoting Jane Austen again, and I’m sick of it.


Those of you who are new to my ranting, however – read on. You need to know this stuff so that you too can be driven insane by the collective idiocy of the Internet.


Once again, the culprit is Bustle, a website that seems to be on a perverse mission to talk about Jane Austen all the time while simultaneously refusing to expend a single keystroke in verifying the accuracy of any attribution to her. Bustle’s latest feature, “19 Awesome Jane Austen Mugs to Celebrate Your Favorite Author Every Day,” includes a couple of the usual howlers.


(Which is a shame, since the piece’s author is, in some ways, a more conscientious Janeite than your usual Bustle writer. For instance, she notes that the homey-seeming motto on one of these mugs is actually a Mrs. Elton quote.)


But enough even-handedness; ranting awaits.


I call your attention to Exhibit A, the mug that reads, “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” “Written in Jane Austen’s handwriting, this Sense and Sensibility quote is inspiring,” says Bustle’s writer. Well, inspiring it may be, but as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, no matter what Austen-derived font you put it in. Movie quote! Movie quote! (2008 TV miniseries, screenplay by Andrew Davies.)


Let’s move on to Exhibit B, the mug that reads, “Run mad as often as you choose but do not faint,” described by Bustle as “a fun quote from Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. It’s a great motto for living your best life.”


Argh! Where to begin? (Stop all that rolling over, Jane! I’m dealing with it!)


Point the First: Movie quote! Movie quote! It’s a line from Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film of Mansfield Park, spoken by a Fanny Price transformed from Austen’s virtuous mouseburger into an assertive novelist-in-training.


Point the Second: But at least, in contrast to Exhibit A, it is also a genuine, gold-plated, take-it-to-the-bank Jane Austen quote (albeit with modernized spelling). Not from Mansfield Park, though. It’s from “Love and Freindship,” the teenage Austen’s brilliant satire of the sentimental novel.


Point the Third: And in context, this line is absolutely not “a great motto for living your best life.” It is the final, hilarious stupidity from the mouth of the dying Sophia, who, like her partner in crime, Laura, drapes her selfish, manipulative and dishonest behavior in a mantle of exaggerated sensibility. (Think Isabella Thorpe.)


Ladies, let me make this crystal clear, since poor, misunderstood Jane Austen isn't here to do it herself: This line is not a motto. Jane Austen isn’t offering us feminist Words to Live By about speaking out rather than giving in. She’s ridiculing both alternatives. She doesn’t want you to run mad either!


Read the books. You’ll see what I mean.


9 comments
Oct 5 2015 07:19PM by A. Marie

As ever, three hearty huzzahs for accuracy and sanity! (But if you're going to the AGM in Louisville later this week, try not to go charging through the Emporium overturning tables of mugs with inaccurate quotes. Might frighten the horses.)

I regret to report that I won't be in Louisville myself, for a combination of reasons. But I'll be calling for gruel at the hotel bar with all the other Mr. Woodhouse fans next year in DC, come hell or high water. (Although at the rate it's currently raining on the Eastern seaboard, it may well be both.)

Oct 5 2015 07:38PM by dyaffe

Thank you, Marie, as ever, for your support for the quixotic No Misquoting Jane Austen campaign. I too will be missing Louisville, but I hope to join you at the gruel trough in DC.

Oct 5 2015 09:45PM by Mags

Aww, I'll miss seeing both of you in Louisville. And I'm just aghast that anyone thinks the run mad as often as you CHUSE line is supposed to be inspirational. It's just hilarious. Right up there with fainting alternately onto a sofa (my favorite line from L&F).

Oct 5 2015 10:41PM by dyaffe

Yes, it's another lesson in the folly of quoting JA out of context. And the folly of getting your JA criticism from Bustle.

Oct 6 2015 03:50AM by Monica Descalzi

I'm new to your ranting - and very much pleased by it! Having recently reread S&S I thought I wasn't quite familiar with the quote, so I set out to check it on Mollandsnet, which confirmed my initial suspicions. Anyway I Googled it, just in case, which led me to your blog. As the discovery more than made up for the original vexation, I have mixed feeling about Bustle :)
Now, seriously, with so many genuine quotes, why resort to "fake" ones? And though I'm not very fond of Fanny Price, I fail to see the point of making her into a young JA of sorts. I know adaptations are works of art in themselves, but really, if you think the heroine might not be attractive to a wide audience, go pick another book. I certainly would have been spared the disappointment ...

Oct 6 2015 01:46PM by dyaffe

Welcome to the blog, Monica! I suspect the vogue for fake JA quotes is just an artifact of Internet culture: someone puts together a list of "Jane Austen quotes" and promiscuously includes movie quotes as well as book quotes. Then five other sites copy the same list, and pretty soon the whole Internet seems to agree that Jane Austen wrote "Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for each other" or "You have bewitched me body and soul." If you're not very familiar with the novels or very suspicious of Internet provenance, you may not bother to check a searchable novel text, and soon you're adding your voice to the giant echo chamber. As a journalist, I'm appalled by the sloppiness, especially when it is so painfully easy to check this stuff.

As for Rozema's Fanny Price, I agree with you -- I would have thought that the interesting challenge for a writer/director would be to find a way to make Jane Austen's Fanny compelling to a wider audience, rather than replacing her with another kind of character entirely. But the definitive Mansfield Park has yet to be made. . .

Feb 8 2017 12:26PM by Mariana

Hi! Great post. It really bugs me when they misquote Austen too. But I just wanted to point out that in fact "run mad as often as you choose but do not faint" is in fact an Austen quote. It's from Love and Freindship (the novella, not the Lady Susan adaptation) which is part of the Juvenilia.;) Cheers!

Feb 8 2017 12:29PM by Mariana

Terribly sorry! My browser wasn't opening the entire article before but now I can see you'd already pointed the bit about Love and Freindship in the article. :)

Feb 8 2017 01:44PM by dyaffe

Yes, I love that line from Love & Freindship! In fact, all of L&F is hilarious. . .

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