Deborah Yaffe

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Time for a mental health day

By Deborah Yaffe, May 21 2018 01:00PM

It’s been quite a while since I last discussed the unfortunate phenomenon of faux-Jane Austen quotes, usually originating in Jane Austen movie scripts, proliferating in the Internet echo chamber. Perhaps this pause has lulled you into the belief that my good work, along with that of untold numbers of other Janeites laboring to correct the record, has borne fruit, driving the legions of misquoters into retirement.


Alas, no.


Once again, our text is drawn from Bustle, that rah-rah Girl Power website that seems to take a perverse pride in never, ever double-checking its sources, at least when it comes to Austen. The latest offender: a story headlined, with a word-omitting sloppiness that bodes ill for what follows, “15 Quotes From Books To Use Your Personal Mantra On Bad Mental Health Days.”


Parenthetically, I must note the strange self-contradiction of this particular article, which points out the bankruptcy of feel-good bromides – “[b]eing told to ‘just think happy thoughts’ and ‘try harder’ gets really old after a while, as anyone with mental illness will tell you” – before offering up more elegant versions of the same thing from the likes of Alice Walker, Audre Lord, and Sylvia Plath (!) and urging readers to “[m]emorize them to recite like mantras, and you'll always have an uplifting quote to help you muddle through.”


I admit I feel a teensy bit bad about criticizing the writer, who implies that she is among “those of us who live with mental illness every day.” But not bad enough to stay my hand when, right there at number fourteen among the promised “Quotes From Books,” I find this: " 'It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.' — Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility"


Back in November 2015, I laid the issue of this particular misquotation to rest in what I feel I may describe, with all due humility, as the definitive blog post on the topic. Yet, like a zombie out of a Pride and Prejudice mashup, this mistake will not stay dead. So I must repeat: This is not a line from a Jane Austen novel. It is not even really a line from a filmed adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. It is a garbled version of a line from Andrew Davies’ 2008 TV adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.


I think it’s time that someone created an online listicle discussing how best to cope with the stress and anxiety brought on by finding faux-Austen quotes on the web. It probably won’t appear on Bustle.


7 comments
May 21 2018 09:43PM by A. Marie

My name is A. Marie, and I'm a not-even-trying-very-hard-to-recover addict of saying, "That line's not in the book." Granted, this makes me unpopular at times--especially among those who haven't bothered to read the actual books. But, dammit, I have to say it sometimes or I'll keel over with an apoplexy!

And as balm for us both, here's a more light-hearted story. I got a postcard today from a delightful older Janeite friend who lives in another Upstate NY city (and sends postcards because she thinks computers are the invention of the devil). She'd just finished watching the royal wedding: "Don't you think it was condescendingly gracious of the Sucklings to lend their barouche-landau for the wedding procession back to Windsor Castle?" God save Diane!

May 21 2018 10:06PM by dyaffe

I think there must be a Janeite hive mind, because I too thought of the Maple Grove barouche-landau when I watched the procession. The key question is whether Meghan is Isabella Thorpe or Elizabeth Bennet. I insist on the optimistic view, but my husband is of the I-give-it-two-years school. . .

May 21 2018 10:54PM by A. Marie

If any folks in the wedding saga qualify to be the Thorpes, I nominate the Markle half-siblings. i will remain a Meghan supporter until/unless subsequent events conclusively prove me wrong.

May 21 2018 11:20PM by dyaffe

Yeah, those siblings are a curse you wouldn't wish on anyone! I, too, am a Meghan supporter and I hope to be proved right. . .

May 22 2018 02:37AM by Lona Manning

These past two weeks I have been banging on about a mischaracterization of a CS Lewis quote from the Screwtape Letters as being CS Lewis' opinion of Fanny Price. Began to wonder about my sense of perspective...

May 22 2018 01:57PM by dyaffe

No, no -- it's the world that's lost perspective, not us. . .

May 25 2018 02:52PM by Henry Churchyard

Lona Manning -- I'm the one who's probably to blame for the C.S. Lewis thing -- people not reading what I wrote on the website page www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/austen-l.html as clearly as they should...

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