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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Dear diary

Let me start by pointing out that I do understand the concept of clickbait. Really, I do.

But still, I’m left breathless at the moxie of the writers who headlined this post, on a UK news website, “Unearthed Jane Austen diary details beloved author's travels through Lake District.”

If you read no more than the headline, subhead, and first paragraph of the story, you would come away believing that Austen kept a diary during a trip through the English Lakes; that a scholar stumbled across said diary in the National Library of Scotland in the 1990s; and that this exciting new Austen document has just been published.

If you know even a little bit about Austen, however, the story immediately fails the smell test. For starters, Austen never traveled as far north as the Lakes. More important, had a piece of Austen biographical material as juicy as an actual diary turned up in the 1990s, it would have found a publisher in about thirty seconds, not thirty years.

Indeed, if you read on, you quickly discover that this supposed “Jane Austen diary” is actually the diary of another person entirely, albeit a close contemporary (1778-1824) who was also named Jane–Jane Ewbank, daughter of a York druggist and banker. (For good measure, the scholar who found Ewbank’s diary is also named Jane. No wonder those poor reporters were so confused.)

Ewbank’s diary, which has just been digitally published by the University of York, sounds like it offers an interesting window onto Regency social history, but it has zero connection to Beloved Author Austen, unless you count Ewbank’s attendance at a performance of Lovers’ Vows.

Still, the clickbait artists behind this bizarre post seem deeply committed to their chicanery. Not only do the headline and opening paragraph mention Austen, but shortly after revealing that the diary is actually an account of someone else’s experiences, the authors note, “Similarly, Jane Austen's works were set against the background of daily life during the Georgian era.” (That “similarly” is priceless.) And then, after excerpting a few of Eubank’s observations and describing a recent academic conference devoted to her diary, they conclude with a short paragraph of boilerplate: “Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels. . .”

Indeed she was. But not known for her Lake District travel diary.


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