Jane Austen for Everyday
One of the things I like best about Jane Austen is how very quotable she is. It helps, of course, that my husband has seen (and liked!) all the adaptations, and that my children have been raised to think of Jane Austen as a member of the family, albeit in a distant-cousinish sort of way. (Their idea of fun is to get dressed up and stage a ball for themselves, or to get me to quiz them on their knowledge of characters from the various novels. There’s nothing to worry about in that, is there?) Nothing inspires quotation like being around people who “get it.” Whether quoting Austen’s books or their film adaptations, there are quotes to suit any occasion.
For example, when I had three children aged three and under who all wanted to sit on my lap, I was frequently heard to say, “My dear, you tumble my gown.” And I still say, when they boys are sword fighting in the house, “You have no compassion on my poor nerves!”
When illness strikes, it is always appropriate to murmur, “I am so ill I can hardly speak.”
“Happy thought indeed!” and “I am all astonishment!” are wonderful exclamations to use when your four year old has the idea of putting all her toys away or drawing you a picture of a dinosaur. Even better is when she starts saying those phrases to friends and acquaintances. You get the reputation of being a very literate family. And a little odd.
My husband and I also frequently have the following exchange when I check the emails:
Me: Are there any messages, sweetheart?
Me: No message at all, no cards?
Him: None, Ma’am!
Sometimes the quotes that come to mind are a little disconcerting; when I sprained my ankle the first thought I had was “A lame carriage horse threw everything into confusion.” Yes, yes, I ought to have thought of poor Marianne Dashwood’s injury. What does it say about me that my first identification was with the horse?
In late spring I always think “Though May, a fire in the evening is still very pleasant.” As a Californian transplanted to Ireland, I’m always puzzled that the Westons and their friends could have found this surprising enough to remark on. To my mind, the British Isles are always cool enough for a fire in the evening, no matter what the time of year!
I have a friend whose family custom is to utter, “Napkin, sorry!” whenever they forget an item—car keys, a book, or a piece of mail.
There are a few quotes I haven’t yet had the courage to use with people outside the family. But I’m panting to use “Did I mention we are having a new drain installed?” when I want to change the subject. Or when speaking of a female bossy-boots I could say, “She is a vicountess!” I don’t really give myself any credit for exclaiming “Pork!” at the supermarket, but I will feel very smug indeed if I can find a way to work “Fix, commit, condemn yourself!” into a conversation.
You see how useful Jane Austen can be? A thorough knowledge of her works means that you will never be at a loss for words. Or if you are, you can always fall back on “It left me speechless, quite speechless, I tell you, and I have not stopped talking of it since.”
Please share: What Jane Austen quotes do you find yourself using all the time?
Barbara Cornthwaite is the author of George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not. Her new book, George Knightley, Esquire: Lend Me Leave, will be released August 25!