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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

With friends like these. . .

For the most part, I love my fellow Janeites. By and large, we are a smart, thoughtful bunch who, whatever our political, temperamental, or interpretive differences, do our best to treat others with kindness and generosity. Is this because kind, thoughtful people are drawn to Austen’s work? Or does Austen make her readers kinder and more thoughtful? Chicken and egg. You decide.

Of course, there are some counterexamples: Over the past few years, as blog readers will recall, we’ve learned that our Janeite ranks may include such controversial allies as Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks fame; Ivanka Trump, of First Daughter fame; and a couple of Kardashians, of famous-for-being-famous fame.

And now we’ve got another problematic cohort. Late last year, just days before a federal jury convicted onetime tech wunderkind Elizabeth Holmes on multiple fraud counts, I ran across an online listicle promising “6 surprising facts about Elizabeth Holmes.” Clocking in at #4: “She’s a Jane Austen fan.”

Citing a 2014 New Yorker profile, the piece reported that Holmes could quote Austen by heart but, at least back then, was such a workaholic that she no longer read novels – or, indeed, engaged in any other activities (romance, friendship, TV) that lesser mortals might class under the heading of “fun.”

Alas, the profile, by veteran reporter Ken Auletta, did not specify which Austen lines Holmes could quote by heart, leaving it unclear exactly how significant a Janeite affinity she might rightfully claim. The first line of Pride and Prejudice? Not exactly hundreds-of-millions-in-venture-capital material. The first line of Mansfield Park? Now, perhaps, we can talk.

However serious a Janeite Holmes may have been in the past, she’s now likely to have a golden opportunity to improve her acquaintance with Our Author: Holmes faces up to twenty years in prison on each of four fraud counts, which translates into a lot of reading time.


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