- The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes by Devoney Looser, and: Jane Austen's Transatlantic Sister: The Life and Letters of Fanny Palmer Austen by Sheila Johnson Kindred
Jane Austen is one of the most quoted and misquoted authors to write in the English language. She has a seat at the (mis)quotation table alongside literary giants such as Charles Dickens and Henry Melville, as Devoney Looser reminds us in her foreword to The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes. How many people have quoted the famed beginning from Pride and Prejudice to fit their needs? Many, including Looser, who begins her foreword by encouraging readers to think about the act of quoting Austen: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that you could put almost anything in the second half of this sentence" (v). Fittingly, the book's daybook-like offering of daily Austen quotations also begins with this opening from the beloved novel. Each new month of the book is prefaced by a longer passage from one of Austen's novels—most coming from Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion—and then, for each day of the month, Looser provides a short excerpt from Austen's novels, juvenilia, and letters. Some of these entries quote brief dialogue from these works; some, just a witty line or two; and some, a paragraph or more. The book ends with a handy index for readers who want to search for their favorite novels or compare the quotations provided from particular works.
The Daily Jane Austen enters a longstanding tradition of daily literary quotation books, but Looser's thoughtful foreword reminds us that there is more to the art of editing such a volume than randomly choosing great lines from great works. The editor of such a collection must think about what happens when we take quotations out of context and how readers understand Austen's language as stand-alone witticisms when there is literally and figuratively much more to the story. The editor must keep in mind, as the Austen reader should, that there are [End Page 491] many ways to read an Austen passage. Looser is correct, then, to remind us that even when we think we know what Austen means in any perhaps-familiar paragraph, her lines "deserve greater scrutiny" (vii). As Looser points out, quoting Austen is "a surprisingly fraught exercise" because every line should be read contextually to determine if the writer's "prose is laudable, laughable, or lamentable" (x). Sometimes Austen is making a joke. Sometimes she intends for the reader to question the characters she mocks, such as Caroline Bingley or Mrs. Elton when they insincerely speak words that sound good. As Looser notes, Austen citation is problematic in this way even for the Bank of England, which, on its latest ten-pound note, quotes Caroline on the act of reading and misses the remark's ironic context. Quoting the narrator or one of Austen's protagonists is not the same as quoting an antagonist. A pleasure perhaps indirectly offered by The Daily Austen is the opportunity it provides to think again about the notorious misquotation of Austen's works, without proper consideration of the original context—and the equally rampant misattribution of witticisms to her, as in the frequent instances when lines spoken in contemporary films are credited to her.
Before reading all of the wonderful quotations shared in Looser's book, the reader is poised to learn a great deal from the foreword. It is a gem both for its guidance in thinking about the act of Austen quotation and for its contextualization of quotation as an eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century practice. We know that Austen read books of extracts, such as Vicesimus Knox's 1780s Elegant Extracts, and that she liked to quote from authors in her letters...