Six Best Austen Quotes

Six Best Austen Quotes

My laptop is on the verge of death and unbearable to use, and I am praying for the new one’s daily arrival. Coping with a distorted screen and often unresponsive keyboard, I attempted to write about the politics behind the empire waisted gown, but the subject proved too complex to pursue amidst the technical complications, and I abandoned it in frustration (I will try to tackle it again for my post next month). So instead of a more scholarly offering, today I am falling back on a staple tactic of my earliest blogging days: when in doubt, make a list. This I think I can handle despite the cantankerous computer. I’ve tackled a variety of Austen rankings in my time, but I never have offered up my absolute favorite quotes from each of the novels, probably because it is an entirely partial and prejudiced endeavor. If I engaged in this exercise again next week, I would probably land on different selections. Nevertheless, here are the lines that currently stand out most prominent in my mind, ranked according to my momentary preference.

 

 

Hayley Atwell, 2007.

#6 – “Mr. Bertram,” said she, “I have tidings of my harp at last. I am assured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it has probably been these ten days, in spite of the solemn assurances we have so often received to the contrary.” Edmund expressed his pleasure and surprise. “The truth is, that our inquiries were too direct; we sent a servant, we went ourselves: this will not do seventy miles from London; but this morning we heard of it in the right way. It was seen by some farmer, and he told the miller, and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher’s son-in-law left word at the shop.” – Mansfield Park

I just love this line (Mary gets all the best in this book). It reveals something very quintessential about Austen world.

  • Runner up: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”

 

 

Jean Marsh, 2008.

#5 – Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating. For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.

In spite of his being allowed once more to live, however, he did not feel the continuance of his existence secure, till he had revealed his present engagement; for the publication of that circumstance, he feared, might give a sudden turn to his constitution, and carry him off as rapidly as before. – Sense and Sensibility

I adore Austen’s narrative voice, and this bit of commentary on Mrs. Ferrars beautifully critiques the character’s absurdity. It makes me laugh every time I read it.

  • Runner up: “Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that?–They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something.” – Fanny Dashwood

 

 

Benjamin Whitrow,1995.

4. “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. — Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” – Pride and Prejudice

There are so many fabulous lines and zingers in the book, but these three, short sentences strike me as both powerful and pivotal, excellently demonstrating the ruling dynamics of the Longbourn household.

  • I have no less than four runners up for this novel. All are great:
    • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
    • “I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.” – Elizabeth Bennet
    • “Kitty was no discretion in her coughs … she times them very ill.” – Mr. Bennet
    • “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” – Lady Catherine

 

 

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, 2009.

#3 – “Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley.

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”

“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.

“Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.” – Emma

I had the hardest time choosing a single quote for Emma, as it is chock full of masterfully constructed text. In the end, I selected the above exchange rather than a single line, because the moment is magnificent.

  • Runners up:
    • “Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else.” – Miss Woodhouse (“Badly done,” Emma!)
    • “You must go to bed early, my dear—and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go.—You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel.” – Mr. Woodhouse

 

JJ Feild, 2007.

#2 – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” – Northanger Abbey

Mr. Tilney has maybe the best dialogue of any character Austen created. I chose this line because it is so quotable. I once seriously considered painting it over my bookshelves (crappy handwriting is all that stoped me).

  • Runner up (from the same chapter): “My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous.”

 

 

 

Ciaran Hinds, 1995.

#1 – “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.” – Persuasion

The best words Austen ever wrote, totally ROCKED by Captain Wentworth. They make me want to jump up and cheer.

  • Runner up: “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company; that is the best.” – Anne Elliot and Mr. Elliot

 

So what are your favorites? Do you take issue with any of mine? Let us indulge ourselves in frivolous debate! It will be great fun.

 

29 Responses to Six Best Austen Quotes

  1. “You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” – Elizabeth Bennet

    I love several of Mr. Bennet’s lines but I think one of my favorites is:
    “We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him.” – Mr. Bennet

  2. I love all of these quotes and think you have nailed the #1 – That letter is just swoon worthy and you can tell Jane really went out on a limb there – I wonder if men were really that romantic in her time! A few of my favs include

    “A man who had felt less may have said more” – Mr Darcy to elizabeth when she asks him why he did not talk to her. How utterly breathtaking

    “Your family owe me nothing, I believe I thought only of you…” Darcy to Lizzy – makes me weak at the knees!

    “It has been sometime now that I have considered her the handomest woman of my acquaintance” Darcy says to Mrs Bingley after her diatribe of criticism of Elizabeth to Darcy.

    “I knew you could not be so beautiful for nothing” Mrs Bennet to Jane upon her engagement to bingley. Classic Mrs Bennet Line !

    “Let us hope, that I may outlive you” Mr Bennet to Mrs Bennet when she is distraught at being thrown out by Mr Collins!

    “But you are not entitled to know mine, nor should such behaviour induce me to be explicit.” Lizzy standing up to Lady Catherine

  3. Something must be wrong with me that I much prefer the comic lines to the romantic. Anything Mr. Bennet says tickles me. However, of the quotes you’ve chosen, #5 is definitely my favorite. Makes me laugh out loud every time.

  4. Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

    (Upon discovering how little money Wickham is demanding from Mr. Bennet)
    “No,” said her father; “Wickham’s a fool if he takes her with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds. I should be sorry to think so ill of him, in the very beginning of our relationship.”

    She was not a woman of many words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas

  5. I love Mr Bennet’s lines. He was very droll. After the dance when his wife tries to tell him who Mr Bingley danced with he says, ‘if he had any compassion for my nerves he’d have sprained his ankle in the first’. Marvelous!!

  6. Just substitute my name at the top of Anji’s comment and that’s about it for me. I think I could find many many quotes from P&P that I love as it is by far my favourite of Jane’s books. (Although I must admit some from the 1995 & 2005 versions may not actually be in the book ?. Thanks for this post Alexander and I hope you get your new pc soon.

    • So good, isn’t it? It was the easiest one to pick. I really like Ciaran Hinds, but there isn’t a film version of Persuasion that satisfies me. I would love to see an adaptation that gets it right.

  7. I’m sorry about your computer! I hope the new one arrives soon. This was a very fun list, though I really would like to hear about the politics behind the empire waisted gown (I’m not even sure if you meant that or it was a joke, but it does sound interesting). I very much like both of your runner up quotes from Emma. When I was first introduced to Jane Austen, I couldn’t stand Emma. I’m always slow to get a joke, so I took the whole thing at face value, as a romance. Later, I came to understand that Jane Austen was writing social commentary much of the time, and now I love that book.

    • I’m serious! We’ll see how it goes. I hit a brick wall with the topic this month. I’m blaming the computer, but maybe it was more than that. Complex stuff. I have a love hate relationship with Emma. The book is spectacular, but I identify too strongly with Miss Woodhouse not to cringe through most of it.

  8. ‘For what do we live,but to make sport for our neighbours,and to laugh at them in our turn!’
    I love Mr Bennet avd his sharp,sarcastic yet highly perceptive comments.

    Anji’s choices are,of course,wonderful- in fact the entire exchange during the first proposal contain,as you call them,quite a lot of zingers!

    The persuasion quote of the letter? Words fail me!!
    Thank you for a wonderful post!

  9. The quote from Mr. Bennet and the way they were spoken by Ben Whitrow in 1995, is my favourite from that dramatisation. Even my husband, who is most definitely NOT a Janeite, has that as his favourite scene! I have a certain fondness for lines from both of Darcy’s proposals. From the first, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” for the words rather than the way in which they must have been said. From the second, “My affections and wishes are unchanged but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever” when he’s giving it his final shot.

    The quotes from Persuasion simply can’t be bettered and I’d have a hard time bettering the rest, too.

    • Thanks, Anji! I have horribly neglected Mr. Darcy, haven’t I? I think it’s because it’s the comic lines from P&P attract me most. The more absurd, the better. But oh my, that letter from Persuasion … I’m not usually one to drool over the heroes, and Captain Wentworth bothers me at times, but his declaration turns my knees to jello.

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