Deborah Yaffe

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Janeite on the Potomac, Part II

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 26 2019 01:00PM

Bipartisanship is sadly rare in Washington these days, so it’s refreshing to find one instance of agreement across the aisle, even in these polarized times. Hot on the heels of the news that First Daughter Ivanka Trump is (possibly) a Janeite comes word that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leading contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination, is also an Austen fan.


“In Iowa City, Elizabeth Warren is asked her favorite book,” New York Times politics reporter Thomas Kaplan tweeted last week. “ ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ she says, ‘because it's about an observant woman who cuts through all of -- I know Jane would never call it this -- but the BS.’ ”


When I read Kaplan’s tweet, I assumed Warren was referring to Elinor Dashwood, who is indeed an observant woman with a sensitive bullshit detector, although more often than not she keeps her findings to herself. On the campaign trail, I figured, Warren probably found herself paying the compliment of rational opposition to many who didn’t deserve it. No wonder Elinor appealed to her.


But apparently Warren had someone besides Elinor in mind, and luckily another intrepid reporter was on hand to clarify her point.


During that same trip to Iowa City, it appears, Warren sat down for a fifteen-minute Q&A with Marie Claire magazine, covering trivial matters like climate change, abortion rights, and the crushing costs of housing, education, and child care. Luckily, however, the final question touched on a truly important topic: What book does Warren reread frequently?


Warren’s answer: yes, Sense and Sensibility. “Every time I read it, I see another layer in it,” she said. “The characters are interesting and far more complex than appears on the surface. I am reminded that a serious woman who is a sharp observer has the capacity to open our eyes in ways we had never thought of before.”


“Are you referring to Jane or Elinor?” asked interviewer Chloe Angyal, who – props to her – had clearly read the book, or at least seen the movie.


“Both,” Warren replied. “I was really thinking about Jane, but it’s both of them. It’s the whole notion of, it celebrates the observer. And I like that.”


If all this reading and rereading weren’t enough to confirm Warren’s Janeite status, the repeated references to the novel’s author as “Jane” would probably do it. But perhaps the most revealing detail is Warren’s transparently autobiographical interpretation of S&S as a celebration of “a serious woman who is a sharp observer.” Reading yourself into your favorite Austen novel: That’s the mark of a true Janeite.


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