Deborah Yaffe

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Not as happy as I deserve

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 2 2015 02:00PM

Another year, another round of Let’s Misquote Jane Austen.


Back in October, the last time I was overcome by irritation at the general inability to CHECK THE TEXT before attributing any old line to Jane Austen, I focused my annoyance on a Bustle list of “19 Jane Austen Quotes That Can Fit in a Tweet.”


That list included three quotes from Austen movie adaptations, so I didn’t come down too hard on the three additional quotes that were garbled versions of actual Austen lines.


Such restraint ends now.


ShortList.com has given us “40 Authors on How to Be Happy” – actually, forty authors saying something about happiness, not necessarily giving instructions – and the Austen contribution, at #15, is misquoted and attributed to the wrong book.


As we Janeites know, it’s Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, not someone or other in Pride and Prejudice, who says, “I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve” – not, as ShortList has it, “I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.”


A minor difference, you think? Let us pause for a moment to note how much better Austen’s line is. First, it’s pithier: ten words instead of twelve. Second, it's more euphonious, avoiding the slightly clunky “to be. . .with being” construction and substituting the alliteration of “brook being.” And third, it's funnier, since “brook” connotes a teeth-gritted endurance, which contrasts amusingly with the happiness that the good captain must force himself to bear.


Interestingly, precisely the same misquote, misattribution and all, appeared on that old Bustle list, too, and Google informs me that this doubly-wrong version is all over the Net. No doubt someone right now is repeating the error on a key-ring or a fridge magnet, secure in the knowledge that ShortList and Bustle must know what they're talking about. (Ha!)


How do these mistakes get started, I wonder? I’d guess that someone – call her the ur-misquoter, or UMQ for short – decided to jettison the slightly old-fashioned “to brook” in favor of a more modern-sounding alternative. Not being as good a writer as Jane Austen – who is? – the UMQ ended up with an inferior version.


And why P&P rather than Persuasion? Oh, you know: Colin Firth, etc. As far as the misquoters are concerned, Jane Austen only wrote one book. Why even bother checking?


4 comments
Feb 10 2015 11:13AM by Mags

Here's another one for your collection... http://www.buzzfeed.com/tabirakhter/epic-literary-love-tattoos?bfpi&crlt.pid=camp.chSyedWPhbnD#.ewaZAwOwl

Feb 10 2015 03:12PM by dyaffe

That's just sad. Imagine being the one who has to break it to a friend who has just had "You have bewitched me body and soul" permanently and painfully inked onto her skin that the line is not really in Jane Austen.
OK, it's also funny.

Mar 30 2016 01:22PM by Undeserving

[The link is expired so I am guessing someone has pride in having a misattributed tattoo with emotional content]
Was/Is the owner of the skin [no] happier than she deserved to be? How did it happen? Who created the source text for the tattoo? Did the tattoo expert have a catalogue of possible tattooenda? Did the tattooed text have ANYthing to do with Jane?

Mar 30 2016 02:09PM by dyaffe

Actually, if you cut and paste the link, you'll still be able to see the story and the sadly inaccurate tattoos -- there are two, #19 and #22, both from the movie of Pride and Prejudice, rather than the book. I leave it to others to answer the larger questions you raise (though since these faux-Jane Austen movie quotes are all over the Internet, I think it's likely the owner of the skin brought the line in herself. . .)

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