Jane Austen Answering Machine Messages

Judy Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Judy Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Fun Friday

Some days when I need a laugh I’ll go to the Jane Austen Information Page, where readers over the years have offered up humorous suggestions in response to various prompts. There’s a Jane Austen Top Ten Songs List, a Jane Austen Punishments List (I’ve reported on this one before), Persuasion told to the rhythm of Green Eggs and Ham, and other fun things. Today I pass  along their proposals for messages that different characters might have on their answering machines.

To give you a chance to test your knowledge of Austen, I’ve removed the characters’ names but you can see who they are after the break. The suggestions appear to all have been made by members of the same family (the Dates):

 Jane Austen Answering Machine Messages

1. “Thank you for calling my humble abode. I am inexpressibly sorry that neither I nor my dear Charlotte are at home, but if you would be so kind as to leave your message, I will assure you most sincerely that I shall return your call.”

2. “This answering machine was paid for and chosen by my patroness, the Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who also wrote this message and directed its execution. Such condescension!”

3. “I am most seriously displeased to have missed your call. I will return it at my earliest convenience (yours is of no consequence) for I must have my share in the conversation.”

4. “You wish to leave a message, and I have no objection to you doing so!”

5. “The ring of the phone pierces my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman to return calls. Absent I may have been, busy I have been, but never impolite. A message, a number will be enough to decide whether I return your call this evening or never…”

6. “I am very ill today and quite unable to answer the phone. If I had a visitor, I suppose that person could have spoken with you, but it does not suit the Miss Musgroves to visit the ill, and I dare not rise from my bed for fear that I may be seized in some dreadful way!”

7. “I am unable to take your call, being thoroughly occupied with my tailor. Not that I would have answered the phone myself — after all, a baronet must be seen to live as a baronet!”

8. “You may leave a message. You will have nothing better to do. I will return your call if I can. But you know married women have never much time for returning calls.”

9. “We will return your call at some time or other, but it does not much signify when.”

10. “It’s so obliging of you to call, but then we have so many obliging friends that we are truly grateful, not that we wouldn’t be grateful just for our health, but all these friends are so kind, and I know that you will forgive us for not being here when you called, except that my mother might be in but she can’t answer the phone because she’s deaf you know, not that she has anything else to disturb her, in fact she’s remarkably healthy for her age, and she would answer but she probably hasn’t heard the bell, so I’m sure you won’t mind, and where was I? Oh yes, if you’d be so good as to leave your message just after the beep, that’s the fourth long beep, not the first one, there are three short beeps and then a long one, that’s the one to speak after, otherwise the machine won’t record your message and we’d be ever so sad if we didn’t receive it because I’m sure that it’s very interesting, and I will call you just as soon as I get in …”

A reader also wrote in with a recording that one might hear at the airport:

11. “I am most seriously displeased. This will not be borne. Move your carriage immediately.”

Answers after the break


  1. Mr. Collins
  2. Mr. Collins
  3. Lady Catherine de Bourgh
  4. Mr. Bennet
  5. Captain Wentworth
  6. Mary Musgrove
  7. Sir Walter Elliot
  8. Lydia Wickham
  9. The Wickhams
  10. Miss Bates
  11. Lady Catherine de Bourgh
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