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.
#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.”
#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
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
#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
#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.”
#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.