Every December, book-lovers around the world find new and exciting ways to celebrate Jane Austen's birthday, but this year, one tribute seemed to have truly missed the mark. In honor of the 242nd anniversary of the author's birth, The Washington Post shared an article about Jane Austen's life-long single status, and unsurprisingly, literary Twitter was not here for the questionable remarks.
On Friday, The Washington Post ran an article that discussed Jane Austen's mastery of marriage and relationship plots, but rather than celebrating her impressive command of language, or her ability to craft timeless romances, the controversial story focuses on the fact that the author remained unmarried until her death. It draws from personal and family journals and letters to paint a quaint picture of the author's life as an unwed woman: despite having an opportunity for marriage and family in her real life, Austen turned it down in order to pursue her dream of writing about the same topics in her fiction. According to the author of the article, "spinsterhood hardly seems fair for the author of Pride and Prejudice," and she argues that Austen's lack of real-life romance makes her ability to craft such perfect marriage plots all the more remarkable.
The Washington Post shared the article on their official Twitter account on Monday, along with the headline "Jane Austen was the master of the marriage plot. But she remained single."
Almost immediately, literary Twitter users began to point out how misguided that line of logic actually is. Plenty of authors create incredible stories about things they have never experienced: fantasy authors write about dragons without transforming into one, just as mystery novelist write crime stories without becoming murders, and science fiction writers can create futures in which humans and aliens coexist without actually travelling to space to meet extraterrestrials.
Because no one, especially not someone online, can mess with Jane Austen and get away with it, the internet was not going to let the moment pass without making that fact clear. Readers, fans, and Twitter users took the opportunity to highlight just how off the mark the article's main point is, and, like all good Twitter burns do, they used the original structure of the Post's headline to poke fun at it.
You might have been told to "write what you know" in the past, but bookish Twitter used authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Tom Harris, and more to point out that in breaking that rule, Jane Austen was in good company.
Even literary superstar and book Twitter hero Neil Gaiman joined in on the fun when he tweeted out the perfect response to The Washington Post's tone-deaf comments. "Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal for a book set in a graveyard," the author's tweet reads, "But he remains alive and unboxed."
Other Twitter users pointed out that not only is the article's criticism silly, given the ample examples of authors who have written about things they have never known (see: magic, extraterrestrial life, time travel), but it also carries with it sexist undertones. By implying it is impressive Austen could write about romance without having a man in her life, some argued, it undercut her remarkable real-life independence, creativity, and artistic ability to imagine and create on her own. Some users even took the opportunity to point out how many successful single or unmarried female authors wrote critically acclaimed books about love and relationships, including Emily Brönte and Louisa May Alcott.
If this latest online drama has taught us anything, it's don't mess with Jane Austen Twitter, because they are not messing around.