British writer Caroline Criado-Perez was recently subjected to a barrage of r-pe threats on Twitter for her suggestion that, wait for it, Jane Austen replace Charles Darwin on the 10-pound note.
Yes. For the outrageous, nay, seditious proposal that one of our greatest literary figures be honoured on the currency, Criado-Perez was treated to such gems as:
“Everyone jump on the r-pe train > @CCriadoPerez is conductor”
“Ain’t no brakes where we’re going”
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“Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place”
“So looking forward to t-tty f-cking you later tonight.”
“Don’t feed the trolls” is the standard response to this kind of online bullying. But like writer Clementine Ford, I call bullshit on this (non)response. Instead, in solidarity with Criado-Perez and with all women guilty of speaking while female, I offer the following troll response strategies, inspired by none other than Austen herself …
The Lady Catherine: Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Elizabeth Bennet’s nemesis in Pride and Prejudice, is a force to be reckoned with. She is snobbish, opinionated and domineering. One thing she is not is passive-aggressive. Scandalised by the suggestion that her nephew Mr Darcy might be engaged to Elizabeth, Lady Catherine sallies forth to put Elizabeth in her place. She’s armed with a fantastic quiver of insults: Elizabeth’s sister Lydia is a skank, her mother is a nobody and Elizabeth’s socially inferior presence will be enough to make the very trees wither at Pemberley.
Impugn her honour and Lady Catherine would be all over your hashtag quicker than you could say “tea is served in the drawing room”. She’d set the hounds on your Tor browser and expose you all over Meryton for the cowardly, snivelling whelp that you are.
The Mary Musgrove: Anne Elliot’s sister in Austen’s final novel, Persuasion, proves the maxim that there’s only one thing more boring than listening to people’s dreams: listening to their ailments. Mary meets every situation from the pedestrian to the dramatic with a wearying hypochondria. Formerly prosperous family decaying into insolvency? Sore throat. Older sister packing up the estate instead of ministering to you? Head cold. Snubbed by your sisters-in-law taking a walk by themselves? Take to your chaise-lounge with second-degree ennui.
The trolls would soon be bored into submission by a minute and co-ordinated description of her afflictions, especially those involving phlegm, gas, pus and infestation. (She could of course describe her humours, but I fear the joke would be lost on your average troll.)
The Mr Collins: There’s a near perfect correlation between an inability to use “your” and “you’re” correctly and being a dickhead. Trolls struggle to scale the intellectual heights involved in correctly placing an apostrophe and cracking the code of “there” and “their”.
Enter Mr Collins, the boorish cousin of Lizzy Bennet. Mr Collins’ idea of a good time is reading Fordyce’s Sermons and listening to Lady Catherine predict the weather. He is not the man to let a grammatical error pass by without comment.
Let’s learn from Mr Collins’ example and respond to trolls with minute and helpful critiques of their crimes against language. Not just tutorials on recognising possession, but learned intercourse on the extraordinary versatility of the f-word and the way it is applied by trolls.
The Lucy Steele: Lucy Steele, from Sense and Sensibility, is an early example of what we would now recognise as the “frenemy”. She is outwardly affable and complimentary and eager to get to know the unsuspecting Elinor Dashwood. But Lucy’s desire for intimacy disguises a darker motivation. She suspects that the man she has manoeuvred into a secret engagement, Edward, is in fact in love with the manifestly superior Elinor. Lucy pretends friendship with Elinor in order to share her secret and warn the honourable Elinor off her man.
Borrowing from Lucy’s tactics, we could pretend affinity with the trolls. Camouflage ourselves as kindred spirits what can’t use grammar in order to learn their ways and customs. Then, having infiltrated their cyber-world of dicks scared (un)stiff by articulate women, start messing with their tiny minds …