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.
It's an uphill battle, no question about it -- the errors on the internet are legion, and there are only a few of us Janeites willing to keep fighting! Hang in there!
One of my favorites:
"Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings."
Said by Fanny Price in a 1999 adaptation of "Mansfield Park".
"Dinner was soon followed by tea and coffee, a ten miles' drive home allowed no waste of hours; and from the time of their sitting down to table, it was a quick succession of busy nothings till the carriage came to the door, and Mrs. Norris, having fidgeted about, and obtained a few pheasants' eggs and a cream cheese from the housekeeper, and made abundance of civil speeches to Mrs. Rushworth, was ready to lead the way."
Yes! I noted that one in another of my blog posts on misquoted Austen: http://www.deborahyaffe.com/blog/4586114521/Another-brick-in-the-wall/8752808 There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of these on the net. . .
I was actually googling the "It isn't what we say or think..." quote to verify it before sharing it on my author FB page. Do you have a recommended list of actual Jane Austen quotes or a resource? Thanks!
Devoney Looser, a respected Jane Austen scholar, is bringing out an Austen-quote-a-day book in September. (Here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Daily-Jane-Austen-Year-Quotes/dp/022665544X/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=looser+austen&qid=1564856932&s=gateway&sr=8-2) So that might be one possibility. And there are many places online -- e.g., the Republic of Pemberley (www.pemberley.com) or Molland's (mollands.net) -- where you can find searchable texts of Austen's novels, to verify whether a particular phrase is actually in the novels. Good luck!