• Deborah Yaffe

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Few expressions of Janeite commitment are as permanent -- not to mention as painful -- as the Jane Austen tattoo. Therefore, I’d have thought – call me crazy! – that it would be worth taking the trouble to verify ahead of time the accuracy of any Austen quotation you planned to etch onto your skin.


Apparently, not everyone agrees with me. For every Janeite as careful as Alethea White-Previs, whose impressive array of Austen tattoos features several genuine, take-‘em-to-the-bank Austen quotations, there seem to be any number of people willing to commit themselves on the basis of a cursory Google search.


I can only hope no one is following the lead of Lucy Martin, a columnist for the University of Warwick (England) student newspaper, whose recent literary tattoo suggestions included “For those who love romance novels, ‘I love you most ardently’ from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” A line which a) is misquoted from b) a scene that, properly understood, isn’t romantic, in c) a book that is not a romance novel.


But Martin isn’t alone in her apparent inability to text-search before tattooing. In 2014, a BuzzFeed list of “23 Epic Literary Love Tattoos” included not one but two photos of skin art featuring not-in-Austen lines, both from the screenplay of the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice: “We are all fools in love” (#22) and “You have bewitched me body and soul” (#19).


The latter tattoo incorporated a picture of a quill pen, even though screenwriter Deborah Moggach seems much more likely to have used a computer. (Over on Pinterest, a poster noted proudly that the font of her new “You have bewitched me etc.” tattoo mimics “Jane Austen’s handwriting,” in which those words were never written.)


In November 2015, Bustle recommended the “fools in love” line as one of “14 Jane Austen Quotes That Would Make Great Tattoos.” Two months later, the same website featured a picture of the same phrase, prettily inked onto the skin of someone-or-other. “Jane Austen laid down some serious truth bombs in her books, but this quote from Pride and Prejudice is so universal, honest, and accurate, it practically screams ‘Pick me, pick me!’ from inside the pages,” the accompanying caption explained.


Except that you won’t find that quote inside the pages of P&P, because Jane Austen didn’t write it.


Obviously, if you love a line from a Jane Austen movie and want to ink it onto your skin, you should go right ahead. But if your goal is to acquire a literary tattoo, then it might be worthwhile to consult an actual book. And if that seems like too much work to do for your Jane Austen tattoo, maybe you’d better stick to the temporary kind.

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Copyright Deborah Yaffe, 2021