Deborah Yaffe

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Jane Austen's new look

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 1 2020 01:00PM

These days, the internet is awash in posts purporting to explain why social distancing in the Time of Coronavirus is amusingly or instructively or refreshingly similar to the life of a Jane Austen heroine. Gloves! Family togetherness! No-touch dating!


Mostly, I think these pieces, at least when intended to be read as more than tongue-in-cheek, are rather silly: Temporary, forced quarantine in an age of perpetual technological connectedness bears only a superficial resemblance to socially internalized constraints on women’s lives in a largely pre-industrial age. Not to mention that the typical Jane Austen heroine spends half her time attending balls, visiting neighbors, or traveling to friends' houses for extended stays, activities that most of us now recall with nostalgic longing.


But whatever! Far be it from me to quibble at anything that helps a fellow freelance writer make a buck in our straitened times.


Meanwhile, however, Jane Austen herself has apparently weighed in on our current condition. The bronze statue of a casually strolling Austen erected three years ago in the center of Basingstoke, England, recently acquired a surgical mask, the local newspaper reported last week.


Who added the mask, and whether they did so as a prank, a show of solidarity, or a protest against the British government’s safety recommendations, is unclear – appropriately enough, given Austen’s penchant for slippery ironies. And perhaps that open-endedness is just as well. It gives us another topic to discuss around our newly cozy family dinner tables.


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