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  • Deborah Yaffe

CryptoJane, Part II

Jane Austen’s famous remark about the relative value of tangible and intangible assets–“tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too”–reminds us that, in her day, money fell squarely into the tangible category.


So, despite the curious love-hate relationship that Bitcoin fans apparently have with Austen, it might seem unlikely that Our Jane could have any connection to the ongoing crisis in the world of cryptocurrency, that realm of impenetrable online transactions involving coins made of pixels, not pewter.


But no! Austen really is everywhere—including, it seems, on the now-deleted Tumblr blog of a woman near the center of last month’s biggest crypto story: Caroline Ellison, the twenty-eight-year-old former CEO of Alameda Research, a crypto trading firm whose financial woes helped bring down FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange with which Alameda was closely entangled.


Although the Tumblr in question, worldoptimization, was anonymous, journalistic sleuths have established that Ellison is the likely source of its musings on everything from sexual ethics to the web serial Worth the Candle. And among Ellison’s posts is a December 2019 review of Persuasion (keyword-search this archive of the blog).


Exhibiting the problematic judgment that has landed her in the center of multiple criminal and civil investigations, Ellison rated Austen’s last completed masterpiece as only middling–worth a mere three stars on a five-star scale. “Mostly I was struck by how lame I found Anne,” Ellison wrote. “I really just wanted to shake her and start yelling. You don’t get any points for being quietly virtuous!!”


“She doesn’t have any backbone,” Ellison continues. “I was especially enraged by her speech at the end, where one might expect her to realize something like ‘maybe my elders are fallible and I shouldn’t listen to them 100% of the time,’ and instead she comes up with ‘I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.’ ”


To be fair, the passage Ellison cited is a frequent stumbling-block for modern readers, even those who haven’t recently squandered billions of dollars of other people’s money. But still, it’s hard to resist the temptation to draw analogies between Ellison’s critique of Austen and the choices that apparently got her into trouble in her day job.

Would a bit more attention to virtue, duty, and the guidance of elders have helped keep her out of trouble? Hard to say. Maybe Ellison and Elizabeth Holmes can start an Austen book group. They both seem likely to have some time on their hands.

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