Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 26 2020 01:00PM

For Austen fans everywhere, it’s a burning question: WWJD (What Would Jane Do) in the time of coronavirus quarantine?


Luckily, we now have our answer, reported via Twitter just yesterday: “Over breakfast, Jane announced she'll be finishing Sanditon in order to give that Andrew Davies more to work with. ‘Poor man’s been playing without a net.’ ”


This welcome insight into Austen’s productive response to global pandemic comes to us via Pride & Plague, a delightful new Twitter account that purports to chronicle how Our Jane and her pal William Shakespeare are holding up amid social isolation.


Apparently, the two great writers – or at least their action-figure avatars – have remained friends ever since jointly starring in “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” the wonderful exhibition mounted at Washington D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library in 2016.


Equipped with tiny surgical masks bearing a marked resemblance to repurposed Band-Aids, Jane and Will have spent the past five days much like the rest of us: shopping for emergency groceries, perfecting their handwashing technique, and bingeing on TV – the newly-available-for-streaming 2020 adaptation of Emma, natch.


The Pride & Plague account is unsigned, but judging from the identity of its Facebook publicist, it seems to be the brainchild of Austen scholar Janine Barchas, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who was co-curator of the Folger exhibit.


Luckily, Barchas appears to have grasped an important truth about our current woeful reality. Toilet paper, canned goods, and Tylenol may be the staple necessities of the quarantined, but another item will surely prove equally important in getting us through all this: a sense of humor.


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