• Deborah Yaffe

Puzzled

I love jigsaw puzzles. So much so that I only occasionally dare to start one, lest my addiction/obsession eat up every waking hour until completion.


But when I ran across a mention of “Pride and Puzzlement” – “a gorgeous 1000-piece jigsaw featuring hand-drawn characters from Jane Austen’s enduring novels” -- I was all set to indulge myself with a $19.99 preorder. The puzzle becomes available March 30, and I was prepared to sacrifice, say, the first week of April.


Until I looked more closely at the design.


At first glance, all seems well: Small oval frames containing drawings of Austen heroes and heroines, plus two larger ovals containing quotations, surround the majestic façade of a stately home. The drawings are by Canadian illustrator Jacqui Oakley, whose previous work includes a Jane Austen adult coloring book and illustrations for a complete edition of the novels.


Oakley’s pictures here are a little too pretty for my taste, but that’s no crime. Nor do I fault her for choosing Chatsworth, the magnificent Derbyshire seat of the Duke of Devonshire, as the centerpiece of her design. Clearly, that’s a reference to the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, in which Chatsworth played Pemberley. Not my favorite Austen movie, but to each her own.


More puzzling, as it were, is the decision to label as “Jane Bennet & Mr. Bingley” the couple shown embracing in the oval centered above Pemberley. However much we may love those characters, they are definitely not the novel’s protagonists, let alone the duo who get to live at Pemberley. But – OK, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are depicted in slightly larger ovals flanking the façade, so I guess we’ll let that go. (Like Matthew Macfadyen, whom he resembles -- no doubt intentionally -- this Mr. Darcy wears his hair long enough to suit a Romantic poet.)


Here’s where things get weird. On the left of the Jane and Bingley picture are oval portrait-frames containing supposed likenesses of Mr. Knightley, Anne Elliot, and Marianne Dashwood. On the right are ovals showing Emma Woodhouse, Captain Wentworth. . . and Margaret Dashwood.


Yes, you read that right. The makers of this Jane Austen puzzle do not appear to know that Margaret Dashwood is the thirteen-year-old kid sister who plays virtually no role in the plot of Sense and Sensibility. Oops.


But it gets worse! Because, as you will no doubt have guessed, only one of the two quotations featured on this puzzle is genuine Jane Austen. It’s a good one, I’ll grant you: “It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible,” from Northanger Abbey. In a corresponding oval frame, however, the diligent puzzle-doer will discover this: “We all have our best guides within us if only we would listen.” Obviously, this is a brutally paraphrased version of Fanny Price’s lovely line in Mansfield Park: “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”


The truncated and inferior version, which comes from the execrable 2007 film adaptation of the novel, can be found -- attributed not to screenwriter Maggie Wadey but to Austen herself, natch -- in the usual online nests of error: affixed to Pinterest posts, for sale at Red Bubble, enumerated in listicles celebrating Austen’s wit and wisdom. In these venues, errors are made and multiplied by well-meaning amateurs having fun with their friends, or by sloppy journalists feeding content mills. Although I find it bizarre that none of these folks ever bothers to conduct a simple text search, by now we’ve learned not to expect better from such sources.


But it truly boggles my mind that a subsidiary of Penguin Random House would go to the trouble of commissioning, packaging, and marketing a Jane Austen puzzle without bothering to vet its contents on the most basic level. You would think that someone working for one of the world’s biggest publishers would have read the books.


At least I've saved $19.99. And the first week of April.

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Copyright Deborah Yaffe, 2021