Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 3 2017 01:00PM

I like to think that I am not a complainer, but I have to admit that I've done a lot of complaining on this blog.


Some of my moans are chronic: I never tire of pointing out that quotes from filmed adaptations of Jane Austen’s works are not, in fact, quotes by Jane Austen. And some of my moans are situational: This year, I have frequently noted the misfortune of being an American Janeite with a limited travel budget just when the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death has brought an avalanche of Austen-related events to Britain.


How exciting, then, to be able to combine my complaints into one Super-Moan, as I managed to do when I ran across this post by Sophie Andrews, who blogs at Laughing with Lizzie and is a volunteer ambassador for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation.


As you’ll recall, one of the many, many bicentenary events that we budget-conscious American Janeites can’t experience is Sitting With Jane, the art trail composed of twenty-four specially painted, Austen-inspired, book-shaped benches located in and around Basingstoke, in Austen's home county of Hampshire.


Luckily, however, Andrews has visited all twenty-four, and in her post she provides excellent photos of the front and back of each one, along with some details about its location. Judging from her photos, the artistic approaches and interpretative attitudes taken by the bench creators vary widely, from Regency restraint to comic-book sass, but many are quite lovely and all are interesting. Grr! Why can’t I go see them myself?


But really now: If you’re going to create a bench (“Jane and Her Forgotten Peers”) dedicated to Austen and some of the pioneering female writers who came before her, and if you’re going to put that bench outside Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried, shouldn’t you make sure that any quotes you attribute to Austen actually come from one of her books?


Yes, I’m afraid it’s true: On the back of the Winchester Cathedral bench,* next to a portrait of Austen, appears this quote: “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”


***headdesk***


I have said it before, and no doubt I will have to say it again. Jane Austen did not write this line, no matter how many web sites claim she did. It is a garbled version of a line written by Andrew Davies in his screenplay for the 2008 television adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.


I hate to think of Jane Austen rolling over in her nearby grave at this misattribution. On the other hand, she might have enjoyed the irony: A bench dedicated to great female writers uses a quote from a male one.



* In fact, “Jane Talk,” another bench in the Sitting With Jane series, also uses movie quotes (though not the Davies one) in a “modern graphic art style” montage of Austen-related lines. But at least the creator of that bench seems to have realized she was using movie lines. (The “Jane Talk” bench is supposed to “inspire all to read [Austen’s] novels,” though I must grumpily point out that this goal might be better served by quoting from those novels, rather than from screenplays based on them but written by other people.)


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 7 2014 01:00PM

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald ran an engrossing interview this past weekend with Caroline Knight, a great-greatgreatgreatI'velostcount niece of Jane Austen.


Knight and her brother -- descendants of Austen’s brother Edward, who took the name Knight after he was adopted by wealthy cousins – grew up in Chawton House, the Elizabethan pile down the road from Chawton cottage. The cottage, which we now know as Jane Austen’s House Museum, is of course the place where Austen wrote or revised all her novels.


Knight, a business consultant who lives in Melbourne, is in the news right now because she’s launched a literacy charity (the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, natch) and wants publicity for this good cause.


But for us Janeites – not to mention us “Downton Abbey” viewers – what’s fascinating is the glimpse she offers into the life of a once-wealthy British family living in a formerly luxurious mansion that was falling down around their ears. Even as her semi-aristocratic family opened village fetes and hosted pheasant shoots, her father mowed the great lawn himself because no one could afford a gardener.


"It was us keeping up appearances, if you like," Knight tells the newspaper. "Where we lived was magnificent and the sitting room, library and great hall was very grand. The kitchen was in a hell of a mess, the attic rooms and back rooms hadn't been touched for years. It was the peripherals of the house that needed repair, the roof, the structural work you couldn't see. I had no sense of the fact that the place was falling down slowly.''


A few years after the last family event in the Great House – Knight’s eighteenth-birthday celebration – the property was taken over by Silicon Valley multimillionaire Sandy Lerner, whose successful quest to restore the house and turn it into a center for the study of early English writing by women is chronicled in a chapter of Among the Janeites.


Knight has returned only twice, she told the interviewer, but against her better judgment, part of her still misses that life. ''Even at nineteen, intellectually I knew this house was unsustainable, something has got to happen to it,” she says. “But that doesn't stop the heart, does it?''


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