Beware the Urge to Quote Jane Austen

I have two confessions to make today. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.

I take no pleasure in relating the circumstances of my misdeeds, and I freely admit I was to blame in both instances. Here’s the deal:

A while ago I was racing through a busy morning on my Twitter feed.

Without giving them too much thought, I liked several tweets, and retweeted several more tweets about Jane Austen and her novels. Here’s one of the tweets I shared:I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony.

You can imagine my feelings when, a few hours later, another lover of Jane Austen’s novels commented on the tweet and explained in the nicest terms possible that the quote I had shared from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice wasn’t a quote from the novel at all.

Instead, it was a quote from the 2005 movie version of P&P—a line the screenwriters had made up out of whole cloth.

In other words, I had attributed to Jane Austen what I should have attributed to screenwriter Deborah Moggach. That was embarrassing!

Looking back, that may not have been the first time I was seduced into believing other people’s clever words were written by the great Jane Austen.

Which brings me to confession number two:

I had this image queued up to share on social media next week:

Luckily, I did a double-check and realized this is not a real Jane Austen quote either. Oh, the first part of the quote may be Jane’s words, but the second part—not even close!

Here’s the actual quote from (the book we now know as) Love and Freindship:

From the first moment I beheld him,
I was certain that on him depended the future Happiness of my Life.

Another very popular “quote” that’s frequently attributed to Jane Austen is this one:

It’s a wise sentiment, but Jane Austen never wrote those words in Sense and Sensibility or any of her other novels.

Once again, the quote is from a dramatization of her novel—this time from the 2008 BBC production of Sense and Sensibility.

And, as before, the words were strung together by screenwriters, not by Jane Austen.

If you do an Internet search of “popular Jane Austen quotes” you’ll probably see this one pop up:

And this one:

Need I say it? Neither of these are actual Jane Austen quotes.

In fact, the “Last Person on Earth” quote is so far off from what Jane actually wrote, it’s unrecognizable. Here’s the line as Jane Austen actually penned it in Pride and Prejudice:

“I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

The Internet is filled with memes, charm bracelets, coffee mugs and other things bearing sentiments attributed to Jane—sentiments she never ever wrote. But they look nice, and they have the ring of authenticity when we read them, which only makes them more insidious.

Having been guilty myself of perpetuating a false Austen quote, I understand how easy it is to fall victim to their lure, but I’ve since seen the error of my ways.

From this moment on, I pledge to always verify a Jane Austen “quote” before I share it on social media. And I pledge to do my part to take a stand and call out every fake Austen quote I see for what it really is.

I hope by doing so I have earned your forgiveness.

If you’d like to make a similar confession, please feel free to share your experience in the comments box below. You’ll get no judgement from me.


24 Responses to Beware the Urge to Quote Jane Austen

  1. I recently heard about the Mandela effect and your post reminded me of this. I am sure I’ve done this as well as in most cases I often have seen the movie adaptations more recently than I have read the books so I often get things mixed-up.

  2. I just searched for “hedgerows” — it isn’t in P&P at all but is used once in MP when Fanny is speaking about the change in the Grant’s garden and three times in Persuasion when the Musgroves, Anne and Wentworth take their walk through the countryside.

    I would have sworn “Fanny” (Austen never named her) Bennet used the word!

  3. I’d say something but I’m afraid I’ll misquote it. You are forgiven. How many times have I used a quote in my reviews and they were wrong. LA! I’ll go stand the corner now. Wonder if that girl will loan me her box?

  4. Hahahahahahahaha! This is hilarious, Nancy. And, yes, all of us have probably misquoted Jane Austen numerous times. We’ll just have to be more careful in future. 🙂

  5. This was a very interesting post and I am sure that I have been guilty of using quotes that are from movies and not the original books by Jane Austen as well.

  6. Thank you for this article. It’s so appropriate. This happens all the time with people who have never read Austen and just watched the Joe Wright Hollywood version of P&P, particularly the “body and soul” quote. You’re right, it’s worst on Etsy! But authors should always fact check.

    On the other hand, it’s possible to twist a quote for your own purposes, becoming a new Deborah Moggach, but that’s artistic license and not Austen. Savvy readers will get that you didn’t mess it up and meant to say it that way, and the majority of JAFF readers know their Austen better than the back of their hands.

    • You make a great point, Suzan. The 2005 P&P movie brought Jane Austen to the attention of a whole new audience of people who had never read her books before, and that’s a plus. I’ll add that there were some truly lovely lines of dialog in that film (and others based on Austen’s work) that are worth repeating.

      I always thought I knew my “Genuine Jane” quotes well enough to ID and label the Hollywood quotes for what they were, but my two mess-ups in a row made me realize I need to be a bit more vigilant! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. It’s so hard to tell what’s real and what’s not and what’s true or false in this world anymore! It is interesting to know that no matter how nice they are I would not have known they weren’t Austen quotes it’s something how people can do that!

  8. I missed that 2008 BBC production of Sense and Sensibility. I’ll have to see if I can find it anywhere.

    The internet makes it very difficult to tell reality from fiction much of the time. So much so, sometimes the lines have disappeared, rather than even being blurred.

    You should collect all the Jane Austen quotes on the internet in a coffee table book. Jane Austen Quotes: The Real, the Imagined and the Arbitrary.

    Oh, I know, you could make it into a board game! That would be fun 🙂

  9. Ha ha! I thought for the longest time that Mrs. Bennet really did lament the possibility of being thrown into the hedgerows after Mr. Bennet’s death. Nope, that one didn’t happen either.

    But the “deepest love” quote- wasn’t that in the 1995 P&P movie as well?

    • The hedgerows aren’t “real?” I am truly disillusioned! Do you know where that particular piece of Fandom got started?

      Great post, Nancy! I think some of the quotes are modern-sounding enough to be fairly recognizable as non-Austen, but others are really tricky. I suppose it’s actually quite a compliment to the writers of the screenplays!

      • Thanks, Randi! By the way, I love the “hedgerows” line because it rings true as the kind of thing Mrs. Bennet would say. It’s from the last episode of the 1995 BBC production of P&P:

        Mrs. Bennet: “Three days he has been in the neighborhood, and still he shuns us! I say it’s all your father’s fault! He would not do his duty and call, so you shall die old maids, and we shall be turned out by the Collinses to starve in the hedgerows!”

        Mr. Bennet: “You promised last year that if I went to see him, he’d marry one of my daughters, and it all it all came to nothing, and I won’t be sent on a fool’s errand again!”

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