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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Jane Austen's Best Insults

Is it any surprise that Jane Austen is a master of the insult, the zinger, the perfect one-liner? After all, this is a woman who said of herself:
"I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal."

A post shared by Misty (@bookishmisty) on

A few nights ago, in my twitter chat Emma viewing, I said that one of the things I always tell people who haven't read Austen is that Jane Austen is FUNNY! There are many, many reasons why Jane is hilarious; truly, they are legion. But one of them — one of the best of them — is that she is damn good at an insult. Some of her insults are deliciously subtle (like Mr Collins' statement to Lizzie, "I have the highest opinion in the world of your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding," made all the more hilarious because it's Mr Collins), and some are more overt, throwing-a-fit type insults ("Obstinate, headstrong girl!"). And of course, some of the most pivotal scenes in her books are based around insulting and being insulted (Hello, Darcy's entire proposal and also existence).

So collected here are some of my favorites, but before I get into them, this post was inspired by the following tweet, which is such the perfectly subtle Austen insult that I feel like a lot of readers miss it, or (like me, originally), think there's no way that's what she meant, right? Right?
(Hint: she totally did.)

Now, onto some of my faves! (There are truly so many!)

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half." —Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey
Oh, Henry. Henry, Henry, Henry. You very nearly lost me with your insults to women when I first read Northanger Abbey. If you weren't so damn funny, and so clearly facetious (I assume? I hope?!), it may have not gone well between us. 

The above quote is balanced, of course, by Lizzie's:
There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.
in Pride & Prejudice. Really, nearly half of what Lizzie says could probably make this list, a trait she definitely got from her father. In addition to the many (mostly) gentle barbs he slings at his wife, my favorite is probably:
My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts [as that she should be put out of Longbourn upon Mr Bennet's death]. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor.”

I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased. —Lady Catherine, Pride & Prejudice
Let's not pretend that Lady Catherine isn't one of the best insult-ers in all of Austen, though certainly not the most subtle. I'm definitely going to start saying "I send no compliments to your mother," to everyone, for any reason, forever.

"I have no doubt that he will thrive and be a very rich man in time–and his being illiterate and coarse need not disturb us." —Emma, Emma
on Mr Robert Martin, her apparent arch-nemesis, for some reason. Emma, of course, is an excellent insultstress, but we'll pass over her more badly-done moments for now, because this one is just so... *chef's kiss*

There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense. — Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice
Um, Elizabeth on life, but also, Jane Austen on all of us. Ouch, Jane.

And definite honorable mention to this moment in the film version of Northanger Abbey:

Want more insults? Alexa Adams did a guest post on the topic here for Austen in August a few years ago!

And of course, before I let you go, I must give a plug for the brilliant artistry of Austen's non-major-work-related insults; her minor works and letters are peppered with bits of biting brilliance throughout, so go sally forth and discover the absolute SASS.
"I cannot say much for this monarch’s sense. Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the wars between him and the duke of York, who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other history, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my spleen against, and show my hatred to, all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, and not to give information. This king married Margaret of Anjou, a woman whose distresses and misfortunes were so great as almost to make me, who hates her, pity her." — Jane Austen, The History of England...By a Partial, Prejudiced, & Ignorant Historian (1791) 

“Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?"
Yes, Jane. Yes, we did.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
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  1. LOL Yes!!! She is hilarious whether its her letters or her novels and lesser works. I read the History of England for the first time early this year and absolutely cackled through it. She has so many good zingers and I hate to admit how slow I was to pick up on many of them.

    Great post, Misty!

  2. Have you ever read some of her short works? She is such a snark queen in those!

  3. Not sure if this counts as an insult exactly, but I really like this zinger from Mr. Bennet: "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do NOT marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you DO." XD

  4. Lol! I always enjoyed her subtle irony but hadn't thought her as insultress! Mr Bennet is such a great zinger though, I should have thought of it

  5. I've really only read one story of JA. Loved the statements of the characters especially when they have a hidden insult/meaning. It is very creative. Some not witted enough to capture the meaning might even think it is the opposite

  6. Love your examples. I appreciate the subtle insults much more than the obvious ones of Lady Catherine. There's nothing better than the ones where the people either making the insult or being insulted don't even realize it. I like the quote from Emma, "It was a delightful visit—perfect in being much too short" as I can certainly relate to this sentiment.

  7. If you can't convince them, confuse them. ;)


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