• Deborah Yaffe

Eternal verities

Despite the strangeness of this year, some eternal verities remain. Snowflakes. Evergreens. Misquoting Jane Austen. A few highlights of the season: * “Here’s 15 percent off to celebrate our new friendship,” the bookstore chain Books-A-Million exulted in the subject line -- punctuated with a party-popper emoji! – of an email it sent me following a recent order. “Chapter 1: A Brand New Friendship,” the message continued. (Get it? Bookstore chain? Chapter 1?) And then the kicker: “ ‘There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.’ – Jane Austen.”

As I’ve noted before, this oft-quoted line from Northanger Abbey – while genuinely the work of the author Jane Austen and thus not, in one sense, a misquote -- is, in context, hardly the full-throated tribute to friendship that Books-A-Million clearly intends it to be. Instead, it is the insincere self-representation of manipulative Isabella Thorpe, who sees all relationships in purely transactional terms. Come to think of it, then, maybe it’s not a misquote at all; perhaps it’s actually the perfect quote for a retail promotion. Isabella Thorpe is just the kind of person who would consider a fifteen percent discount to be a true mark of friendship. * Getting married over Zoom doesn’t permit you to dispense with every wedding chore, notes Elite Daily, an online news platform for millennial women. “Even if everyone's not together dancing at a reception venue, you'll still need some Instagram captions for virtual wedding pics you take,” writer Rachel Chapman reminded her readers last month, in a listicle offering “40 Instagram Captions For Virtual Wedding Pics & Celebrating The Love At Home.” Thirty-nine of the forty captions -- alternately saccharine (“True love couldn’t wait to say ‘I do’ ”) and would-be-witty (“A wedding that even my cat could attend”) -- appear to be Chapman’s own work. Number fourteen, however, is this: “My heart is, and will always be, yours. – Jane Austen.” I suppose it is pointless to note that Jane Austen never wrote these words, which come from Emma Thompson’s screenplay for the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I suppose it is even less pointful to note that this rendition slightly garbles Thompson’s original --“My heart is, and always will be, yours” -- thereby ruining the rhythm of the line. You might wonder why Chapman, content to leave thirty-nine of her forty Instagrammable sentiments unsigned, felt compelled to attribute the last one to someone who didn’t even write it. The answer, as usual, is AustenBranding: sprinkle a bit of Jane on top, and voilà -- Classy Romance. Perfect for the Instagram version of your life. * “You bewitch me body and soul,” proclaims the “Jane Austen drawstring bag” retailing on Red Bubble for $30.30. “I love, I love, I love you.” To her credit, bag designer Rachel Vass is not entirely guilty of false advertising, since the bag itself – unlike the online listing for it – attributes the line to “Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice.” Strictly speaking, this is an accurate attribution, if we are talking about the Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice and not, as the listing asserts, “Pride and prejudice novel book quote.” On the other hand, devotees of the movie will surely notice that Vass has garbled her quote, which should read, “You have bewitched me body and soul.” (Suitable for Instagram, maybe?) If you’re still in the market for a drawstring bag but prefer your Austen quotes to be from Austen, Vass has another possibility for you, however: a bag reading, “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. – Jane Austen.” “One of my favourite quotes by Mr Darcy in pride and prejudice by Jane Austen,” Vass explains. Except, of course, that the line is spoken by Mr. Knightley, in Emma. Before you ask: Yes, I do realize that, this year especially, we have more important things than online Austen sloppiness to worry about. But isn't it nice to worry about some of the less important things for awhile?


Dec 17 2020 03:49PM by A. Marie

I'm always up for a good airing of the eternal grievances, even at the festive season. (Maybe especially at the festive season.) Wishing you and yours happily splenetic holidays!


Dec 17 2020 06:03PM by Deborah Yaffe

You too, Marie!


Dec 20 2020 09:42PM by Lona Manning

Thank you for being a cyberspace sentinel, guarding Austen's reputation! I have just been side-tracked by a 2021 calendar which asserts that Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." And apparently the internet agrees that this is something Churchill would have said. Eye roll!


Dec 21 2020 12:06AM by Deborah Yaffe

LOL. Yes, it's surprising how many great minds seem to have thought in Hallmark greetings, according to the internet. . .


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