Today’s post is about an inspirational quote that is often misattributed to Charles Dickens. Follow along to learn who really wrote it and why it continues to proliferate across the internet.
The Misattributed Quote
✘“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes.”
The Correct Quote
✓“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes.”
Nicholas Nickleby screenplay
Director Douglas McGrath
United Artists, 2002
After surveying 104 websites featuring the misattributed quote, I found the following trends.
Percentage Type of Website
41% Social Media
16% Corporation/Corporate individual
16% Quotes only
7% Topical group or discussion forum
3% Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
2% Quotes a major feature
2% Online app or service
The Sources of the Misattributed Quote
Based on the above statistics, social media websites are the main mode of propagation for this misquote. As I mentioned in my previous post, the quote virus loves social media. It is one of the most effective ways to spread a contaminated quote. A single person can post one misquote, and it will spread to all of his/her followers who then spread it to all of their followers who spread it to all of their followers and so on and so forth. The bottom line is never believe a quote that is sent to you via social media. There’s a high probability it is inaccurate.
As usual, quotes-only websites are in the top three offenders list. As I’ve mentioned in the past, websites that specialize solely in providing quotes are the most erroneous sources for quotes. For the most part, they are duplicates of each other and feature the same misquotes and typos often in the exact same order. For some reason, these website administrators do not verify the information they are publishing. Because they are so unreliable, I highly recommend avoiding them.
The Cause of the Misattributed Quote
Because the 2002 Nicholas Nickleby film is based on the Nicholas Nickleby book, it is easy to understand how the film quote came to be misattributed to the book. However, they are two separate pieces of art with two separate creators. Douglas McGrath wrote the screenplay, and Charles Dickens wrote the book.
Just because a film is based on a book does not mean that the entire dialog is verbatim from the book. If this were the case, the film duration could never fit within a two-hour timeframe. It is up to the screenwriter to condense the story and dialog into a reasonable feature-film length. In his article “Nipping ‘Nickleby’” featured on Variety.com, McGrath humorously explains if he kept all parts of the book, “The film would then run 35 hours (34 if I cut the scene in the garden).” Later in the article, he describes how he came up with this quote.
If you are interested in hearing the quote in the movie, it occurs in narration (Nathan Lane) during the wedding scene at the end of the film.
In short, because this quote occurs in the film and does not appear in the book, Douglas McGrath is the correct author of the quote.
My 06/18/14 post titled F. Scott Fitzgerald Gets Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due is another example of a screenwriter not getting credit for a quote. In this instance the screenwriter is Eric Roth for his work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Most Disappointing Find
I came across two professors with this misquote on their university homepages. I am disappointed and saddened to find that the quote virus has wormed its way into the hallowed halls of academia.
Most Amusing Find
I found today’s misquote on a quotes-only website where the administrator claims his website is different from all others because his quotes are unique. He writes, “Unlike other websites which source their quotes from some other websites, I handpick quotes from magazines, articles, interviews, newspapers, books etc. so users get a plethora of unique and interesting quotes.” The funny/sad thing is his site not only features today’s misquote but also features other commonly misattributed quotes. In reality, his site is just like the rest of them—unverified and unreliable.
Bibliophile Websites Are Not Reliable Sources for Quotes
One would think that a bibliophile website would be a great resource for book quotes. After all, this is a place where avid readers communicate and share their love of books. However, I came across five book-lover websites that feature today’s misquote. I’ve also seen this phenomenon while doing research for previous blog posts. It appears that even though these people profess their love for books, not all of them are genuine and are getting their quotes from quote websites, social media, or sources other than the actual book they are quoting. So the moral is do not trust quotes found on these websites.
As with so many of my previous posts, today’s misquote is also available for purchase. I found a necklace offered for $10.96 and a bracelet for $34.00. But wait! It gets better. You can also purchase a heart pendant necklace on sale for just $24.98; the regular price is $55.00. So my question is, “what happened?” Did the price get reduced because someone realized the quote on the pendant was inaccurate? Hmm . . . Something tells me that’s wishful thinking on my part (smile, wink, chuckle).
In conclusion, never trust quotes on social media. Never trust quotes from quote websites. Never trust quotes found on academic websites. Never trust quotes from bibliophile websites. Never trust quotes found on merchandise for sale.
Only use quotes from a source that contains verified AND detailed source information with each quote. The name attribution alone is not sufficient. It should be accompanied by the title of the work in which the quote is found as well as relevant information such as chapter, act, scene, line number, stanza, etc.
Kill the Quote Virus
We can only exterminate the quote virus through education. Please share the knowledge by forwarding this post to family and friends. You can also “like” my Facebook fan page or follow me @SueBrewton on Twitter to help spread the word.
“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”
4 thoughts on “No, Charles Dickens did not write that.”
Thanks – I just finished watching the movie and was having trouble finding the actual quote in the book. This made it easy.
I’m glad to be of service and hope you didn’t waste too much time searching the book. At least it’s a good read! Thanks for your comment!
I am sad to report that the Dickens House Museum in London has this quote hanging on the wall in the museum. It is not explicitly attributed to Dickens (there is not a specific attribution), but of course his authorship is implied in the absence of correct identification. I’m glad I stopped to check it myself before using it in my blog post! Thanks for tracking down the correct information.
Thanks for the info. Unfortunately, I have come across these types of misattributions many times in my research. When the quote comes from a source that provides information on one topic only, most people understandably assume the information is researched and verified. Kudos to you for researching it!