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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe


I like to think that I do not “rant” about Jane Austen-related error. I merely point it out, in a snarky yet restrained way.

At times, it may be true, I do allow my annoyance at the total sloppiness that surrounds us at all times and would be so easy to avoid if only people would avail themselves of the greatest research tool ever known to humankind which they all have at their very fingertips every moment of every single day. . . where was I again? Oh, yes. . . allow my annoyance to issue in the occasional bit of mocking chastisement. But always with restraint.

Still, it’s very tempting to rant when an entertainment news site that actually calls itself ScreenRant is the latest source of ridiculous Austen-error, such as appears in the site’s recent listicle “James McAvoy’s 10 Greatest Films, According to IMDB.”

This is not the time to argue with the users of IMDB over whether Atonement is better or worse than various installments of the X-Men franchise, or whether Split should or should not have beaten out The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

It is, however, the perfect time to take issue with this description of Becoming Jane, the Austen biopic that comes in at #8 on the McAvoy Greatest Hits list: “Based on letters written by Jane Austen to a young Irishman, McAvoy's Tom Lefroy, this movie focuses on Austen's pre-fame romance instead of the romance from one of her classic novels.”

Yes, that’s right: Apparently, we now have letters written by Jane Austen to Tom Lefroy. Actual, bona fide Jane Austen love letters.

Also, the Loch Ness Monster surfaced on camera recently, and the Holy Grail was discovered underneath a parking lot in the Lake District.

I might be less inclined to. . . not rant. . . offer a strongly worded critique of this entirely false claim about Austen’s correspondence were it not for my fear that this error will soon spread like a coronavirus, infecting the entire internet faster than you can say, "It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do."

You know how it happens: ScreenRant claims that Becoming Jane is based on Austen’s (non-existent) letters to Tom Lefroy; then three more stories about James McAvoy link to ScreenRant’s listicle and repeat the letter claim; then an introductory paragraph to a Valentine’s Day feature on Bustle titled “15 Ways Jane Austen Makes Us Love Love” notes in passing that “she wrote passionate love letters to an Irish heartthrob named Tom Lefroy”; and pretty soon you can’t Google “Jane Austen” without being offered “letters to Tom Lefroy” as a search term.

It’s enough to inspire a rant. At least from someone less restrained than I am.


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