Deborah Yaffe

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Pet Jane Austen Peeve #37: Quoting Out of Context

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 14 2014 01:00PM

“Jane Austen said it best,” a blogger for the Christian Post asserts in a recent piece on Biblical approaches to friendship. " ‘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.’ "


Sigh. Yes, Jane Austen wrote that passage (in Northanger Abbey), so I suppose there’s a sense in which she “said it.” But really those are the words of the shallow coquette Isabella Thorpe, whose idea of friendship involves manipulation, deceit and an eye well cocked for the main chance.


Jane Austen didn’t intend those lines for a Hallmark card or a souvenir fridge magnet, with a “Jane Austen” tag appended to ratify the Unimpeachable Virtue of the sentiment. Hello! She was making fun of people who publicly trumpet their unselfish devotion to those they love, rather than quietly demonstrating it through their actions.


In fact, it's hard to think of a fridge-worthy Wise Jane Austen Quote that, in context, doesn't have an ironic spin that might make an Austen reader think twice. Remember all the trouble the Bank of England got into last summer when it decided to put a Caroline Bingley quote on the forthcoming Jane Austen bank note?


Is it too much to ask that people bent on recruiting Jane Austen to the cause du jour actually READ HER BOOKS before quoting her? Yes, I suppose it is. . .




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