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By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 30 2019 01:00PM

I don’t speak Kardashian. I have trouble distinguishing among the K-named females of the clan, disentangling the one who married Kanye West from the one whose jewels were stolen in Paris from the one who divorced about ten minutes after staging a nationally televised wedding. (What? That’s all the same one? Seriously?)


Now, however, I finally know something useful about at least one of the Weird Sisters: Kourtney Kardashian, it seems, is an Austen reader.


Or so the eldest Kardashian invited us to presume last week, when she posted an Instagram photo of herself, clad in a white Oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up, dangling her bare feet out of an empty bathtub while reading a green hardback of Emma.


Admittedly, the focus of the shot is not the book but the crystalline white orb perched on the corner of the tub – the Kourtney-designed Positively Poosh essential-oil diffuser, which goes on sale today. “Diffusing has become a part of my daily wellness routine,” Kardashian explains in the accompanying caption.


The post quickly amassed more than 700,000 likes and countless comments, a fair number of which evince a rather creepy obsession with the soles of the Kardashian feet. But it isn’t all slavish adoration: “YOU KNOW DAMN WELL YOU AIN’T READING NO BOOK!” one skeptic exclaimed.


This strikes me as unkind. Can it be coincidence that Kardashian is posing with the Austen novel featuring the heroine most likely to discuss everyone else’s love life on reality TV while promoting clothing lines and skincare products? Obviously, someone read the book.


Mostly, though, the Kardashian post provides more fodder for every Janeite’s favorite game: What Would Jane Do With This Material? It’s not hard to imagine a twenty-first-century Austen, finally granted the health and strength to complete Sanditon, finding room in her fictional seaside resort for a trio of self-absorbed socialites who can’t stop prattling about -- and, not incidentally, monetizing -- the latest dubious “wellness” fad. Come to think of it, she would probably have had them say things like “Diffusing has become a part of my daily wellness routine.”


Austen, I’ll bet, would have spoken fluent Kardashian. What a tragedy that she died two centuries too early to learn it.


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 16 2019 01:00PM

Is Michelle Obama a Janeite? As far as I’m aware, no documentation exists to settle the question either way. But circumstantial evidence now suggests that the artist who painted Michelle Obama’s official portrait may indeed be One of Us.


Amy Sherald, whose strikingly beautiful 2018 painting of the former First Lady hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, has just opened a solo exhibition in New York. And two of the eight portraits on display are named after lines from Jane Austen novels.






A painting of a young black woman in a striped strapless dress (lower left in the photo) is titled “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” a quote from Emma. And a painting of a young black man in a sweater (upper left) is called “A single man in possession of a good fortune,” which is, of course, part of the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.


The single man’s sweater is “decorated with geometric forms of houses, wittily suggesting that his wealth lies in real estate while also insinuating something darker: the tactics that have kept many African-Americans from owning homes,” opines New York Times art critic Roberta Smith.


Austen isn’t the only author alluded to in Sherald’s show – the name of another painting comes from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon – and there’s always a chance the artist picked her titles from a random Google search for famous quotes. (In which case, thank goodness she didn’t end up with “You have bewitched me body and soul” or some comparable atrocity.) Or maybe she's using Jane Austen for the ironic juxtaposition of nineteenth-century author with twenty-first-century subjects, rather than as an homage.


But I prefer to imagine her and Michelle Obama passing the time during portrait sittings by listening together to a really good audio version of Persuasion. Now that’s a lovely picture.



By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 1 2019 01:00PM

As I have pointed out rather often, most recently earlier this week, the Internet is filled with quotes from filmed adaptations of Jane Austen novels that are erroneously attributed to Austen herself.


You might think, then, that you could avoid embarrassment by checking searchable databases of Austen’s texts to make sure that the words you plan to quote can actually be found therein. And this would, indeed, be a great first step.


But Austen is a slippery writer. Just because she – or, really, one of her characters – says something doesn’t mean that Austen intends us to take that sentiment at face value. Irony is omnipresent; context is crucial. Sometimes, in fact, her intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. You have to tread carefully when quoting Austen.


And thus it is that I bring you, as a companion piece to Monday's Top Five (Or, Actually, Six) Faux Jane Austen Quotes, the Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes.


The Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes


5. “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 5)


Internet understanding: What a profound parsing of terms! Clearly, this is Jane Austen speaking! Better highlight this for the test!


In context: Missing the point of the conversation, as per usual, pedantic Mary Bennet struggles to get friends and family to pay some attention to her. Because actually this level of abstraction is no help at all when it comes to living life.



4. “Without music, life would be a blank for me.” (Emma, ch. 32)


Internet understanding: Like, totally! So inspirational! I’m really into music, too!


In context: Pretentious, conceited Mrs. Elton parades her accomplishments, right before announcing that she won’t have time for them now that she’s married. Because actually she couldn’t care less about music.



3. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 34)


Internet understanding: Swoon! Has anything ever been more romantic? Let’s quote this at our wedding!


In context: Entitled, arrogant Mr. Darcy offers insulting marriage proposal and (deservedly) gets his heart handed to him on a tea tray. Because actually this is rude and overbearing, not romantic.



2. “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.” (Northanger Abbey, ch. 6)


Internet understanding: #BFF! This is so you, girlfriend!


In context: Manipulative Isabella Thorpe vouches for her own unselfishness (since no one else is going to do it) while getting her hooks into a naïve – but potentially useful! -- new friend. Because actually Isabella is utterly insincere and self-interested.



1. “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 11)


Internet understanding: Jane Austen is a writer. Therefore, Jane Austen must have liked reading. Yeah, she says so right here. And it’s so true! Reading is awesome! Also, let’s put this on the Jane Austen £10 note!


In context: Miss Bingley picks up a book to impress the eligible Mr. Darcy but tosses it away in boredom moments later. Because actually she doesn’t like to read.



And the moral of our story? Merely searching the text isn't enough. Because actually you have to read the books.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 29 2019 01:00PM

The Emmy nominations were announced recently, and all the brouhaha over Game of Thrones et al. has left me hankering to award some prizes of my own.


As regular blog readers know, one of my perennial themes is the proliferation on the Internet of quotes from Jane Austen movies masquerading as the words of the novelist herself. It would be fair to say that I do not look kindly upon these sloppy mistakes, so easily avoided in this age of searchable e-texts.


Still, there’s a certain grandeur to this phenomenon – or, at least, to its imperviousness to eradication. Faux Austen quotes are the cockroaches of error, the kudzu of cyberspace. In that spirit, I hereby bring you the Top Five Faux Jane Austen Quotes. In the spirit of the occasion, there are actually six of them.


The Top Five (Or, Actually, Six) Faux Jane Austen Quotes


5. “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Emma

Actually the work of: Douglas McGrath, Emma (1996)


The cherry on this sundae of inaccuracy: the movie words, spoken by Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley moments after Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma has accepted his proposal, are actually “Maybe it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for one another.” But who’s counting?



4. “We are all fools in love.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Actually the work of: Deborah Moggach, Pride and Prejudice (2005)


Yes, we are. (Fools in love, that is.) And also suckers for any mistake that’s repeated often enough.



3. “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (or, sometimes, “personal correspondence”)

Actually the work of: Patricia Rozema, Mansfield Park (1999)


Maybe it was inevitable that Rozema’s highly idiosyncratic film would spawn a faux quote: after all, she claims to have based her screenplay not only on Austen’s novel and letters but also on her “early journals.” Which don’t exist. (Presumably, Rozema meant the juvenilia, but those are fiction, not autobiography.)



2. (tie) “You have bewitched me body and soul.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Actually the work of: Deborah Moggach, Pride and Prejudice (2005)


2. (tie) “To love is to burn, to be on fire.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Actually the work of: Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility (1995)


The problem, as I’ve noted before, is that Jane Austen the Ur-Romance Novelist is actually not given to grand romantic statements. If you want those, you almost have to turn to the movies.



1. “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Actually the work of: Andrew Davies, Sense and Sensibility (2008)


This time, the garbling of the faux quote isn’t just a cherry on the sundae; it’s practically a whole extra scoop of ice cream. For, as I’ve reported elsewhere, the real Davies quote, uttered by a newly wised-up Marianne Dashwood, is “It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are. It is what we do, or fail to do.” But if they won’t check the searchable e-texts, they’re certainly not going to scroll through an entire three-part mini-series to make sure they’ve got it right.



Well, that was refreshing! I like handing out prizes! In fact, tune in Thursday for another round. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 28 2019 01:00PM

The upcoming big-screen adaptation of Emma has acquired a complete cast list, and for those of us who delight in fine British character acting, the news is excellent.


It remains to be discovered whether Anya Taylor-Joy, an interesting actor with a slightly off-center vibe, can pull off the misplaced self-confidence of the title role -- I haven't yet seen an Emma I would consider definitive, unless you count Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. But I have no doubt that the always-fun-to-watch Bill Nighy will be a smashing Mr. Woodhouse, or that Miranda Hart, skilled at blending humor and pathos, will do justice to Miss Bates.


And then there’s the casting of Gemma Whelan, the badass Yara Greyjoy of Game of Thrones, as sensible yet pliant Mrs. Weston. I can’t help thinking how much better – or at least differently – Emma Woodhouse would have turned out if only she’d had Yara for a governess. If that woman told you to get to work on your reading list, you’d get it done.


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