The Importance of Being Austen

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?


  1. Kattianne on January 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    “I do assure you sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consist and tormenting I respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honor you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutley impossible.”

    That is my favorite quote from Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice. Of course that’s a quote from Elizabeth to Mr.Collins, denying his love. =)

  2. Jennie on January 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged the a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

    The line that starts Pride and Prejudice just perfectly lays out what is going to happen in the story and cracks me up every time i hear it 🙂

  3. becky on January 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Thank goodness someone said something nice about Northanger Abbey! It’s one of my favorites, but other people are always snubbing it. Yes, the main character is a bit silly and a lot innocent, but at her age, she should be! Other than the NA quotes that Lauren already gave (I have a t-shirt with the “intolerably stupid” quote on it), I like:

    “In history the quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing and hardly any women at all.” (Northanger Abbey)


    (from Captain Wentworth’s note to Anne, which always gives me chills) “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever.” Sigh…(Persuasion)

  4. Kayse on January 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    I’ve always been amused by Elinor Dashwood’s quip, “It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves.”

    I’m also very fond of the following line from Mansfield Park: “A wet Sunday evening—the very time of all others when if a friend is at hand the heart must be opened.”

  5. Emily on January 16, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Honestly? I just love anything that Henry Tilney says. The man knows his muslin AND can snark with the best. So dreamy…

  6. Rachel on January 17, 2010 at 2:01 am

    You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you… (not very original, I know :))
    But my real favorite quote from Pride and Prejudice is “I will only add, God bless you. Fitzwilliam Darcy.” sigh…

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