Those of us who set ourselves up as arbiters of correctness in matters of Jane Austen quotation never run short of opportunities to criticize. All over the internet, people are bobbling Austen’s words, or attributing quotes from Austen movies to Austen novels, or wrenching accurate quotes out of context, thereby distorting their meaning.
But if you’re ready to criticize, you must also be ready to praise. And thus it is that I tip my hat to one Zisilia Alvsa, whom the self-help website Wealthy Gorilla credits as the creator of a listicle called “100 Best Fake Friend Quotes of All Time.” Because right there at #5 is a completely authentic, entirely apposite Northanger Abbey quote: “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.”
Last year, this self-congratulatory passage, which is spoken by the selfish, utterly insincere Isabella Thorpe, clocked in at #2 on my list of Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes. You’ll find it cited everywhere, irony-free: sighed over as a true testament to love, or immortalized as a “friendship quote” on t-shirts, fridge magnets, and tote bags.
In fact, as Alvsa has noticed, Isabella’s words are the exact opposite of a “friendship quote”: they’re the sentiments of someone more interested in looking like a good friend than in being one. Now, if only more listicle writers were interested in reading Austen carefully, rather than in just looking as if they had.