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, Mar 7 2016 02:00PM

It’s time again for one of my favorite pastimes: Making Fun of the Internet – Jane Austen Edition. Today’s episode includes two entries:

1. Over at Blastr, the Syfy channel’s pop culture website, a writer calling herself Geek Girl Diva wrote recently about “shipping,” the common practice in fandom of rooting for a romantic relationship between two fictional characters, often while devising a cute portmanteau nickname for the would-be happy couple.

Shipping isn’t new, Geek Girl Diva argued: “Soap operas have been feeding ships since they were invented back in the '30s,” she explained. “Reach back further and look [at] Jane Austen’s books. How many readers have fallen in love with the Catherine Bennet/Mr. Darcy ship (Carcy? Darnnet? Bency?)”

How many? Zero, I’m pretty sure. True, I did for a moment enjoy myself by imagining the trainwreck that would follow a romance between Mr. Darcy and Kitty Bennet: he so proud, she so . . . vapid and whiny. But no: I kinda think Geek Girl Diva meant Elizabeth. Might want to double-check the info next time, before coming up with the cute ship name.

2. Regular blog readers know that in the past I have found one or two instances of people misquoting Jane Austen online. One or two. . . million. (See here, for example).

Usually, the misquoting takes the form of a list of, say, ten or fifteen “Jane Austen quotes” that includes one or two that actually come from Jane Austen movies. Let it now be known: the folks compiling those lists were amateurs.

For I now bring you a list recently posted by one Melinda Fox on FamilyShare, an online community that aims to “strengthen and inspire families.” Ms. Fox offers “11 Jane Austen quotes that sum up everything you need to know about love.”

The tally:

#1: “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us perfect for one another.” Not Jane Austen – Douglas McGrath’s screenplay for the 1996 movie adaptation of Emma. (And, as long as we're getting things right, the exact quote is, “Maybe it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for one another.”)

#2: “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.” Not Jane Austen – Patricia Rozema’s screenplay for the 1999 movie adaptation of Mansfield Park.

#3: “I dream of a love that even time will lie down and be still for.” Not Jane Austen. Not even a Jane Austen movie. Robin Swicord’s screenplay for the 1998 movie adaptation of Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman. (At least, that's what the Internet says; I don't have the movie handy, so I can't check. And, as we are learning here, the Internet can't always be trusted.)

#4: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” At last! Yes, this one is really from Emma!

#5: “I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.” Sort of Jane Austen. It’s a misquoted version of a line from Persuasion, as I have noted elsewhere.

#6: “It is such a happiness when good people get together, and they always do.” Yes! It’s Jane Austen! From Emma!

#7: “We are all fools in love.” Nope. Deborah Moggach’s screenplay for the 2005 movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

#8: “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.” Good work! It’s really Austen! From Emma again!

#9: “I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony.” Alas, no. I love Andrew Davies, but his screenplay for the iconic 1995 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice is not by Jane Austen. And as delivered by Jennifer Ehle, the line actually reads, “I am determined that nothing but the very deepest love will induce me into matrimony.”

#10: “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” But she finishes strong! Yes, that’s our Mr. Darcy!

#11: What, you thought she was doing eleven? Why? Oh, yeah – the headline. No, just ten.

Final score: Four genuine Jane Austen quotes, one misquoted Jane Austen quote, four Jane Austen movie quotes (from four different movies!), and one quote that has absolutely nothing to do with Jane Austen. Plus our list-maker can’t count. If we’re being generous, a .50 batting average. Kind of impressive, no? Especially given how easy it is to CHECK THE TEXT.

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 5 2015 01:00PM

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for awhile may stop here. You’ve heard what I’m going to say: They’re misquoting Jane Austen again, and I’m sick of it.

Those of you who are new to my ranting, however – read on. You need to know this stuff so that you too can be driven insane by the collective idiocy of the Internet.

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 20 2014 02:00PM

This summer, the Jane Austen Society of North America will once again sponsor a tour of Austen sites in England – the places she lived, the places she set her novels, the places standing in for those places in movies made from her novels. Alas, I will not be along for the ride.

Three years ago, I combined business with pleasure by spending a big chunk of my Among the Janeites book advance on JASNA’s Sense and Sensibility bicentennial tour (chapter 2 in the finished book). This year: no advance, no chapter to write, no Mansfield Park bicentennial trip. No chance to visit Portsmouth and Northamptonshire and the house where Patricia Rozema filmed her idiosyncratic 1999 version of the novel. Sigh.

Luckily, it’s possible to vicariously enjoy some of the thrills of a JASNA England tour by browsing in the pages of Walking Jane Austen’s London, a 2013 guidebook by Louise Allen, the author of dozens of romance novels, many of them set in Regency England.

Allen divides well-traveled tourist districts of the city into eight walking tours of roughly two miles, each one laid out in a chapter that includes an easy-to-follow map, modern photographs and period prints from Allen’s own collection.

The walks take in not only sites associated with the Austen family (Henry Austen’s bank on Henrietta Street, the house in Hans Place where Jane visited him during Eliza’s final illness) but also shops, theaters and monuments that figured in Regency life. The wistful American reader can stroll in imagination through Mayfair and Soho, Kensington and Marylebone, stopping for tea (the drink) at Twining’s or tea (the meal) at Fortnum & Mason.

It all makes for an inexpensive but tantalizing mental vacation, an entertaining series of mini-history lessons, and a reminder of why we’d all rather be reading Jane Austen. . . in London.

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.

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