Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 17 2020 02:00PM

Despite the strangeness of this year, some eternal verities remain. Snowflakes. Evergreens. Misquoting of Jane Austen.


A few highlights of the season:


* “Here’s 15 percent off to celebrate our new friendship,” the bookstore chain Books-A-Million exulted in the subject line -- punctuated with a party-popper emoji! – of an email it sent me following a recent order.


“Chapter 1: A Brand New Friendship,” the message continued. (Get it? Bookstore chain? Chapter 1?) And then the kicker: “ ‘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.’ – Jane Austen.”




As I’ve noted before, this oft-quoted line from Northanger Abbey – while genuinely the work of the author Jane Austen and thus not, in one sense, a misquote -- is, in context, hardly the full-throated tribute to friendship that Books-A-Million clearly intends it to be. Instead, it is the insincere self-representation of manipulative Isabella Thorpe, who sees all relationships in purely transactional terms.


Come to think of it, then, maybe it’s not a misquote at all; perhaps it’s actually the perfect quote for a retail promotion. Isabella Thorpe is just the kind of person who would consider a fifteen percent discount to be a true mark of friendship.


* Getting married over Zoom doesn’t permit you to dispense with every wedding chore, notes Elite Daily, an online news platform for millennial women.


“Even if everyone's not together dancing at a reception venue, you'll still need some Instagram captions for virtual wedding pics you take,” writer Rachel Chapman reminded her readers last month, in a listicle offering “40 Instagram Captions For Virtual Wedding Pics & Celebrating The Love At Home.”


Thirty-nine of the forty captions -- alternately saccharine (“True love couldn’t wait to say ‘I do’ ”) and would-be-witty (“A wedding that even my cat could attend”) -- appear to be Chapman’s own work. Number fourteen, however, is this: “My heart is, and will always be, yours. – Jane Austen.”


I suppose it is pointless to note that Jane Austen never wrote these words, which come from Emma Thompson’s screenplay for the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I suppose it is even less pointful to note that this rendition slightly garbles Thompson’s original --“My heart is, and always will be, yours” -- thereby ruining the rhythm of the line.


You might wonder why Chapman, content to leave thirty-nine of her forty Instagrammable sentiments unsigned, felt compelled to attribute the last one to someone who didn’t even write it. The answer, as usual, is AustenBranding: sprinkle a bit of Jane on top, and voilà -- Classy Romance. Perfect for the Instagram version of your life.


* “You bewitch me body and soul,” proclaims the “Jane Austen drawstring bag” retailing on Red Bubble for $30.30. “I love, I love, I love you.”


To her credit, bag designer Rachel Vass is not entirely guilty of false advertising, since the bag itself – unlike the online listing for it – attributes the line to “Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice.” Strictly speaking, this is an accurate attribution, if we are talking about the Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice and not, as the listing asserts, “Pride and prejudice novel book quote.”


On the other hand, devotees of the movie will surely notice that Vass has garbled her quote, which should read, “You have bewitched me body and soul.” (Suitable for Instagram, maybe?)


If you’re still in the market for a drawstring bag but prefer your Austen quotes to be from Austen, Vass has another possibility for you, however: a bag reading, “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. – Jane Austen.”


“One of my favourite quotes by Mr Darcy in pride and prejudice by Jane Austen,” Vass explains. Except, of course, that the line is spoken by Mr. Knightley, in Emma.


Before you ask: Yes, I do realize that, this year especially, we have more important things than online Austen sloppiness to worry about. But isn't it nice to worry about some of the less important things for awhile?


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 7 2020 01:00PM

Those of us who set ourselves up as arbiters of correctness in matters of Jane Austen quotation never run short of opportunities to criticize. All over the internet, people are bobbling Austen’s words, or attributing quotes from Austen movies to Austen novels, or wrenching accurate quotes out of context, thereby distorting their meaning.


But if you’re ready to criticize, you must also be ready to praise. And thus it is that I tip my hat to one Zisilia Alvsa, whom the self-help website Wealthy Gorilla credits as the creator of a listicle called “100 Best Fake Friend Quotes of All Time.” Because right there at #5 is a completely authentic, entirely apposite Northanger Abbey quote: “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.”


Last year, this self-congratulatory passage, which is spoken by the selfish, utterly insincere Isabella Thorpe, clocked in at #2 on my list of Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes. You’ll find it cited everywhere, irony-free: sighed over as a true testament to love, or immortalized as a “friendship quote” on t-shirts, fridge magnets, and tote bags.


In fact, as Alvsa has noticed, Isabella’s words are the exact opposite of a “friendship quote”: they’re the sentiments of someone more interested in looking like a good friend than in being one. Now, if only more listicle writers were interested in reading Austen carefully, rather than in just looking as if they had.


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.


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