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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

What would Jane Austen say?

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” I texted my husband.

I was not providing dampening commentary on our nearly twenty-nine-year union, or even channeling Charlotte Lucas. No, I was trying out my new “What Would Jane Austen Say?” app, downloaded from Apple minutes earlier for $2.12, including tax.

“And thus the digital dumbs us down further,” he texted back.

I surveyed my twenty Austenian choices and then clicked on the most apposite. “One man’s style must not be the rule of another’s,” I replied. I felt like the character in Karen Joy Fowler’s novel The Jane Austen Book Club, the one who invented an Austen Magic 8-Ball that kept answering every question by noting, “It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves.”

The app, which was apparently created by one Marisa Marquez two years ago but only intruded itself on my consciousness recently, seemed kind of fun, I thought.

“Indulge your imagination in every possible flight,” I texted my college-age daughter, who was studying for finals. “Thank you, I def will,” she promised.

“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal,” I informed my son, six months into his first full-time job. Except that on my screen, the quote trailed off: “saves me the trouble o. . .” Presumably, I figured, it would arrive intact.

I was quickly disabused of this naïve notion. “When I click to see the whole quote it asks me to download the app,” my son explained. “Which ain’t happening.”

I could hardly believe my eyes. Jane Austen quotes used as bait in a virtual chain letter designed to suck a couple of dollars out of all my friends’ bank accounts? Austen as a Madoff-style pyramid schemer? What would Jane Austen say about that?

On second thought, however, I realized I should have been suspicious from the get-go. For nestled amid the genuine Austen quotes on the list provided by the app was an all-too-familiar cuckoo: “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”

This schemer couldn’t even tell genuine Austen from movie Austen! No wonder she couldn’t be trusted! If I’d known her number, I would have texted her an apt reply from her own list: “Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

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