Test Your Knowledge of Jane Austen

Barbara Leigh Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Barbara Leigh Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

The peer mentor for my Jane Austen first year seminar, who has the wonderful Jane Austen-y name of Emma Taylor (heroine + governess in Emma), alerted me to a blog post by one Mallory Ortberg on “How to tell if you’re in a Jane Austen novel.” In addition to being fun to read, it tests one’s Jane Austen knowledge. I’ve shared my guesses below.

Ortberg has written a similar post on Dickens so make sure you check it out.

Warning: Certain of the situations admit of multiple answers.

  1. Someone disagreeable is trying to persuade you to take a trip to Bath.
  2. Your father is absolutely terrible with money. No one has ever told him this.
  3. All of your dresses look like nightgowns.
  4. Someone disagreeable tries to persuade you to join a game of cards.
  5. A woman who hates you is playing the pianoforte.
  6. A picnic has gone horribly wrong.
  7. A member of the armed forces has revealed himself to be morally deficient.
  8. You once took a walk with a cad.
  9. Everyone in the neighborhood, including your mother, has ranked you and your sisters in order of hotness. You know exactly where you fall on the list.
  10. You say something arch yet generous about another woman both younger and richer than you.
  11. You have one friend; he is thirty years old and does business with your father and you are going to marry him someday.
  12. You attempt to befriend someone slightly above or slightly below your social station and are soundly punished for it.
  13. A girl you have only just met tells you a secret, and you despise her for it.
  14. You have five hundred a year. From who? Five hundred what? No one knows. No one cares. You have it. It’s yours. Every year. All five hundred of it.
  15. There are three men in your life: one true love, one tempting but rakish acquaintance, and a third distant possibility — he is courteous and attentive but only slightly interested in you. He is almost certainly the cousin or good friend of your true love, and nothing will ever happen between you two.
  16. A woman who is not your mother treats you like her own daughter. Your actual mother is dead or ridiculous.
  17. You develop a resentment at a public dance.
  18. Someone you know has fallen ill. Not melodramatically ill, just interestingly so.
  19. A man proposes to you, then to another, lesser woman when you politely spurn him. This delights you to no end.
  20. A charming man attempts to flirt with you. This is terrible.
  21. You have become exceedingly ashamed of what your conduct has been.
  22. A shocking marriage of convenience takes place within your social circle two-thirds of the way in.
  23. A woman in an absurd hat is being an absolute bitch to you; there is nothing you can do about it.
  24. You are in a garden, and you are astonished.

My guesses: 

  1. This could either be the Allens in Northanger Abbey or the Elliots in Persuasion. Probably the Elliots as the Allens aren’t so much disagreeable as irritating and Catherine doesn’t need persuading. (Anne does.)
  2. Sir Walter Elliot again.
  3. This is presumably all the novels, given Regency styles and the popularity of muslin (which Tilney is an expert on).
  4. Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park.
  5. I don’t recall any of the female villains playing the piano so I’m drawing a blank. Marianne Dashwood and Elizabeth Bennet play, as does Jane Fairfax, but they don’t really hate anyone. And Mary Bennet is in her own world. Does Caroline Bingley play the piano? (Maybe it’s Emma, who dislikes the fact that Jane plays better than she does. But “hates” seems too strong a word.)
  6. Ah yes, the picnic from hell in Emma.
  7. Presumably Wickham.
  8. Hmm, given all the walking and all the cads, there are numerous possibilities. Marianne with Willoughby seems the most likely, but Fanny takes a walk in Portsmouth with Henry Crawford.
  9. Pride and Prejudice, of course, although I’m not sure where how Mrs. Bennet ranks all her daughters. Would her ranking be Jane, Lydia, Elizabeth, Kitty, Mary?
  10. Would this be Elizabeth about Miss Darcy?
  11. Knightley and Emma, of course.
  12. Maybe Emma and Harriet only Emma is more than slightly above Harriet. Often such friendships work out (Anne and Mrs. Smith, Catherine and the Tilneys).
  13. Lucy Steele, of course
  14. I can’t think of anyone who has 500 a year. Bingley has 5000.
  15. I was just talking about this scenario in class yesterday—the three men in Elizabeth Bennet’s life are Darcy, Wickham, and Fitzpatrick Fitzwilliam. Ortberg could have thrown a cousin into the mix as well.
  16. Emma and Anne have both lost their mothers and have mother figures in Miss Taylor and Lady Russell respectively. Elizabeth has a ridiculous mother but her aunt Mrs. Gardiner is more friend than mother.
  17. Elizabeth, of course, comes to hate Darcy for his put-down. Emma hates Elton for putting down Harriet but her dislike doesn’t begin there.
  18. This sounds like Mrs. Smith. I suppose Louisa Musgrove and Marianne both become melodramatically ill. And then there’s Mary Musgrove, who is a hypochondriac.
  19. Elizabeth is not delighted when Collins marries Charlotte, nor do we have a report of Anne being delighted with Musgrove marries Mary (although maybe she is). These are the only examples I could think of.
  20. Henry Crawford.
  21. This describes half of Austen’s heroines: Catherine, Marianne, Elizabeth, Emma. (The other half are Elinor, Jane, Fanny and Anne.) “Mortification” is one of Jane Austen’s favorite words.
  22. Carlotte-Collins and Maria-Rushworth might fit here but they aren’t exactly shocking (other than that no woman of sense should be marrying either of these men except out of desperation). I also believe the marriages occur much earlier than two-thirds of the way into the novels. The Elton marriage isn’t shocking either.
  23. I’m drawing a blank on the hat but I can think of several female bullies: Mrs. Ferrars insults Elinor, Fanny Dashwood attacks Lucy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh berates Elizabeth (although Elizabeth fights back), and Mrs. Norris bullies Fanny.
  24. Elizabeth is astonished by Darcy and later by Lady Catherine in gardens. Fanny is astonished by the way Crawford and the future Maria Rushworth are behaving.
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  • Ann in L.A.

    3 men in Elizabeth Bennet’s life: Darcy, Wickham and Mr. Collins! Colonel FitzWILLIAM is only really in her life in fan fiction.

  • Robin

    Thanks for catching that, Ann–I caught it myself while rereading the novel last night and forgot to change it. My sense is that Fitzwilliam is used by Austen as a red herring but that she only halfheartedly commits to him. He doesn’t stir the reader’s feelings enough to put another set of desires into play.

    I didn’t realize that he shows up in fan sequels but it makes a lot of sense that he would.

  • Mira

    500 a year is not the Dashwoods after their father died?

  • Robin

    I thought that was the case, Mira, but I just went back and looked and it doesn’t appear to be the case. Each of the Dashwood sisters inherits 1000 pounds–no more–from “the old gentleman.” She and Edward would have to live on 350 pounds a year if Mrs. Ferrars did not relent. When she does, Edwards gets the same 10,000 pounds that Fanny did. I had forgotten how specific the novel gets about income.

  • Mira

    I’ve found it!!
    Chapter 2, when Mr. Dashwood and Fanny is talking: ” Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and
    what on earth can four women want for more than that? They will live
    so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have
    no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no
    company, and can have no expences of any kind! Only conceive how
    comfortable they will be! Five hundred a-year! I am sure I cannot
    imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them
    more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able
    to give you something.”

    Chapter 6, “In the mean time, till all these alterations could be made from the
    savings of an income of five hundred a-year(!!!) by a woman who never saved
    in her life, they were wise enough to be contented
    with the house as it was; and each of them was busy in arranging their
    particular concerns, and endeavouring, by placing around them their
    books and other possessions, to form themselves a home.”

  • Robin Bates

    I’m really impressed you found this, Mira!

  • Robin

    I’m really impressed you found this, Mira!


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