Greatest Hits, Part II
By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 1 2019 01:00PM
As I have pointed out rather often, most recently earlier this week, the Internet is filled with quotes from filmed adaptations of Jane Austen novels that are erroneously attributed to Austen herself.
You might think, then, that you could avoid embarrassment by checking searchable databases of Austen’s texts to make sure that the words you plan to quote can actually be found therein. And this would, indeed, be a great first step.
But Austen is a slippery writer. Just because she – or, really, one of her characters – says something doesn’t mean that Austen intends us to take that sentiment at face value. Irony is omnipresent; context is crucial. Sometimes, in fact, her intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. You have to tread carefully when quoting Austen.
And thus it is that I bring you, as a companion piece to Monday's Top Five (Or, Actually, Six) Faux Jane Austen Quotes, the Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes.
The Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes
5. “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 5)
Internet understanding: What a profound parsing of terms! Clearly, this is Jane Austen speaking! Better highlight this for the test!
In context: Missing the point of the conversation, as per usual, pedantic Mary Bennet struggles to get friends and family to pay some attention to her. Because actually this level of abstraction is no help at all when it comes to living life.
4. “Without music, life would be a blank for me.” (Emma, ch. 32)
Internet understanding: Like, totally! So inspirational! I’m really into music, too!
In context: Pretentious, conceited Mrs. Elton parades her accomplishments, right before announcing that she won’t have time for them now that she’s married. Because actually she couldn’t care less about music.
3. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 34)
Internet understanding: Swoon! Has anything ever been more romantic? Let’s quote this at our wedding!
In context: Entitled, arrogant Mr. Darcy offers insulting marriage proposal and (deservedly) gets his heart handed to him on a tea tray. Because actually this is rude and overbearing, not romantic.
2. “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature.” (Northanger Abbey, ch. 6)
Internet understanding: #BFF! This is so you, girlfriend!
In context: Manipulative Isabella Thorpe vouches for her own unselfishness (since no one else is going to do it) while getting her hooks into a naïve – but potentially useful! -- new friend. Because actually Isabella is utterly insincere and self-interested.
1. “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 11)
Internet understanding: Jane Austen is a writer. Therefore, Jane Austen must have liked reading. Yeah, she says so right here. And it’s so true! Reading is awesome! Also, let’s put this on the Jane Austen £10 note!
In context: Miss Bingley picks up a book to impress the eligible Mr. Darcy but tosses it away in boredom moments later. Because actually she doesn’t like to read.
And the moral of our story? Merely searching the text isn't enough. Because actually you have to read the books.
Thank you for this article. I see these misinterpreted all the time, particularly 2 and 3, even by well-read Janeites who should know better!
Thank you for including that last one. I protest every time it's trotted out as a celebration of reading.
I know! I've seen some of them on T-shirts sold at JASNA conferences! People just find it frustrating that Austen's work doesn't easily lend itself to aphoristic treatment.
Good for you! Keep protesting!
I confess that I have just ushered a floor mat with the quote "Ah! there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort" to the curb, with more than the usual satisfaction. The friends who gave it to us meant well, but they're not Janeites, so they wouldn't have known that this was a Mrs. Elton line. Picture me scraping my Elizabeth Bennet-worthy boots on it with vim and vigor...
I think a floor mat might be the perfect place for Mrs. Elton. . .