Yesterday, Cara Elliott and I conducted a class on Austen’s Northanger Abbey as part of the seminar on the Regency Romance Novel we’re teaching together this spring. Re-reading the book in preparation for the class reminded me of how many of my favorite lines are crammed into that one little book.
You have Austen on men: “I will only add, in justice to men, that though, to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable, and too well-informed themselves, to desire anything more in a woman than ignorance.”
On historians (which I particularly enjoy, since I was once in training to be one): “If people like to read [historians’] books, it is all very well; but to be at so much trouble in filling great volumes, which, as I used to think, nobody would willingly ever look into, to be labouring only for the torment of little boys and girls, always struck me as a hard fate; and though I know it is all very right and necessary, I have often wondered at the person’s courage who could sit down on purpose to do it.”
On the novel: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel must be intolerably stupid.”
Then, of course, there’s Austen’s famous defense of the novel, of which I’ve excerpted only a tiny portion here: “From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers; and while the abilities of the nine hundreth abridger of the History of England, or the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from The Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens, there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labor of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.”
There are many, many more, but my fingers are tired from typing. And if I tried to transcribe all the bits I particularly like, we’d wind up with the larger part of the book up here on the screen.
What are your favorite Austen lines?