Deborah Yaffe


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, May 20 2019 01:00PM

Today on “Making Fun of the Internet,” a roundup of the latest Jane Austen-related stupid stuff that has crossed my cyber-transom recently:

* “ ‘We are all fools in love’ wrote Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.” Such is the inauspicious first sentence of a meditation on love by Pakistani journalist Shah Nawaz Mohal, who goes on to name-drop Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Sartre, Ayn Rand, and the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz while arguing . . . something or other.

I have no idea whether Mohal has correctly quoted all those other people. But I know for a fact that Jane Austen didn’t write the line he attributes to her, which actually comes from Deborah Moggach’s screenplay for the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Will no one around here ever bother to conduct a simple text search?

* “. . . there such much to love about Austen's world. Not to mention she gave us the image of Colin Firth emerging from a lake in a soaked blouse.”

HAHAHAHAHAHA. OK, Isabel Mundigo-Moore: I get that you’re a writer for Yahoo!’s Style pages, not a literary critic (or, apparently, a proofreader). And far be it from me to question your expert claim that such staples of Regency fashion as organza, linen, puffed sleeves, and pearls will be all the rage this summer.

But do you honestly think that Jane Austen gave us wet-shirt Colin Firth? A gift indeed, don’t get me wrong, but one for which we need to thank Andrew Davies, the screenwriter of the 1995 TV miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Austen had nothing to do with it. It’s not in the book. Nope. Not there. Not even close.

* “The film’s final act meanders into the byways of marriage and inheritance better suited to a Jane Austen soap.” Or so argues New Zealand critic James Robins, reviewing the new Kenneth Branagh movie about Shakespeare’s last years.

Excuse me: a Jane Austen what? Surely, James (may I call you James?), you aren’t implying that Jane Austen wrote soap operas – or, even worse, that stories about marriage and inheritance are inherently soapy. Because she didn’t and they aren’t, unless you think the majority of English novels published in the nineteenth century are soaps.

Or perhaps I should just introduce you to Tanya Gold and let you two settle in for a nice chat. Have fun, guys!

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 21 2019 02:00PM

Few expressions of Janeite commitment are as permanent -- not to mention as painful -- as the Jane Austen tattoo. Therefore, I’d have thought – call me crazy! – that it would be worth taking the trouble to verify ahead of time the accuracy of any Austen quotation you planned to etch onto your skin.

Apparently, not everyone agrees with me. For every Janeite as careful as Alethea White-Previs, whose impressive array of Austen tattoos features several genuine, take-‘em-to-the-bank Austen quotations, there seem to be any number of people willing to commit themselves on the basis of a cursory Google search.

I can only hope no one is following the lead of Lucy Martin, a columnist for the University of Warwick (England) student newspaper, whose recent literary tattoo suggestions included “For those who love romance novels, ‘I love you most ardently’ from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” A line which a) is misquoted from b) a scene that, properly understood, isn’t romantic, in c) a book that is not a romance novel.

But Martin isn’t alone in her apparent inability to text-search before tattooing. In 2014, a BuzzFeed list of “23 Epic Literary Love Tattoos” included not one but two photos of skin art featuring not-in-Austen lines, both from the screenplay of the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice: “We are all fools in love” (#22) and “You have bewitched me body and soul” (#19).

The latter tattoo incorporated a picture of a quill pen, even though screenwriter Deborah Moggach seems much more likely to have used a computer. (Over on Pinterest, a poster noted proudly that the font of her new “You have bewitched me etc.” tattoo mimics “Jane Austen’s handwriting,” in which those words were never written.)

In November 2015, Bustle recommended the “fools in love” line as one of “14 Jane Austen Quotes That Would Make Great Tattoos.” Two months later, the same website featured a picture of the same phrase, prettily inked onto the skin of someone-or-other. “Jane Austen laid down some serious truth bombs in her books, but this quote from Pride and Prejudice is so universal, honest, and accurate, it practically screams ‘Pick me, pick me!’ from inside the pages,” the accompanying caption explained.

Except that you won’t find that quote inside the pages of P&P, because Jane Austen didn’t write it.

Obviously, if you love a line from a Jane Austen movie and want to ink it onto your skin, you should go right ahead. But if your goal is to acquire a literary tattoo, then it might be worthwhile to consult an actual book. And if that seems like too much work to do for your Jane Austen tattoo, maybe you’d better stick to the temporary kind.

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 19 2013 02:00PM

Look, it’s fine with me if your knowledge of Jane Austen is based on the movies, not the books. No problem. I love (many of) the movies too.

But could we please remember that the movies are not the same as the books? That just because it’s in a movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel doesn’t mean it’s in the novel by Jane Austen? Could we please stop attributing movie stuff to Jane Austen without first checking to make sure it’s in the book?

Today’s rant is occasioned by an it’s-Jane-Austen’s-birthday feature that ran this week on Bustle, a web site specializing in allegedly female-centric topics like news, entertainment, fashion and Jane Austen. Our author, Anna Klassen, set out to rank Austen’s men from worst to best. Along the way, she demonstrated that, although she may have read the books, she’s seen the movies a lot more recently.

Exhibit A: Willoughby is a “douchebag” for “seducing a 15-year-old girl and abandoning her when she became pregnant.” Except that in the book, the seduced-and-abandoned Eliza is seventeen. She’s fifteen in the Andrew Davies script for the 2008 TV miniseries of Sense and Sensibility. (Minor detail? Not to us Janeites.) *

Exhibit B: Edmund Bertram is Austen’s most romantic hero (yes, you read that right. No accounting for tastes in this world) because, among other things, he “encourages Fanny in her writing pursuits.” Except that in the book, she’s not a writer. It’s Patricia Rozema’s 1999 movie of Mansfield Park that turns Fanny into a Jane Austen prototype and Edmund into her literary mentor.

Exhibit C: “John Knightley and Emma Woodhouse are pretty much BFFs throughout the novel.” OK, this isn’t movie confusion – just a straight-up Journalism 101, if-you-couldn’t-remember-that-his-name-is-George-you-should-have-Googled-till-you-got-it-right lesson.

Exhibit D: “Darcy is seriously moody: He loves her, he hates her, he’s indifferent, and he loves her again. Surely, ‘You have bewitched me, body and soul’ will go down in history as one of the greatest lines in romantic literature, but it took him a while to get to this selfless place.”

Where to begin? Let us break this travesty down.

1. However we may interpret the facial contortions of Messrs. Olivier, Rintoul, Firth and Macfadyen, in the book it is one hundred percent clear that Darcy moves from indifference (“tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”) into love so seamlessly that he is in the middle before he knows that he has begun. After that, no hatred, no indifference, no change of mind. Not moody at all. Just, you know, proud.

2. “You have bewitched me, body and soul” will not go down in history as one of the greatest lines in romantic literature. This will not occur for two reasons.

a) It is a cheesy and cliched line.

b) It is not in the book. Not literature. Cinema. If you love that line, then don’t thank Jane Austen: thank Deborah Moggach, the screenwriter for the 2005 movie of Pride and Prejudice.

All right, back to our reading now. Or our movie-watching. Just no confusing the two, OK?

* Actually, I may have this wrong: In the book, Eliza's age is left more ambiguous than I recalled when I wrote this. She is either fifteen or sixteen when Willoughby seduces her, depending on how you interpret Colonel Brandon's statement that, two years before the seduction, "she had just reached her fourteenth year." She is seventeen when Brandon tells Elinor the sad story.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 3 2013 01:00PM

Why is everyone so convinced that Elizabeth Bennet isn’t beautiful?

This past weekend, Deborah Moggach, the screenwriter for the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, told an audience that she’d initially been “appalled” when Keira Knightley was cast as Elizabeth, because Knightley’s beauty detracted from the story’s empowering message. “Elizabeth inspires women because her wit and intelligence is what captures Britain’s most eligible bachelor,” Moggach said. “Women love that because it means you don’t have to be beautiful. If you are clever and funny enough you can get Mr Darcy.”

Moggach isn’t the first to promulgate the Elizabeth-isn’t-beautiful meme: back when the Knightley movie opened, the New York Times’ critic opined (under the headline "Marrying Off Those Bennet Sisters Again, but This Time Elizabeth Is a Looker") that its heroine was “not exactly the creature described in the 1813 novel,” who “prevails. . . through her wit and honesty, not through stunning physical beauty.”

Apparently, we want to believe that Jane Austen’s heroines are smart, plain girls who win their men solely through character and intellect. But let us turn to the text:

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