This is heartbreaking to me on a number of levels. She was relatively young—only 71— and apparently ill, which I hadn’t realized. She had projects in the works; she was doing things. As a woman who writes, and as a human being who likes things that are funny and true, Nora Ephron was my heroine—not my only heroine, but my heroine nonetheless—and it pains me to think that the last thing we’ll know about her is that she feels bad about her neck. I always thought her neck was rather nice. (Maybe I’m just saying that.)
My parents owned a VHS copy of When Harry Met Sally, which they watched on a VCR whose remote control had a cord (but no Stop button), long before I was old enough to see it. Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail came along, in less scandalous style, but it was When Harry Met Sally that stuck with us: now that we’re all adults, the world and words of Sally Albright and Harry Burns hang over us with what might be considered an unusual closeness. There is too much pepper in our paprikash (but we would be proud to partake of your pe-can pie); we’re gonna be forty…SOMEDAY!; pesto is the quiche of the 80s; “on the side” is a very big thing for us. I personally own a set of days-of-the-week underwear, gleefully bought for me by my mother after years of dedicated hunting. In case you were wondering, they do make Sunday.
A lot of people loved Ephron and her work, and a lot of people are writing about her today—as well they should. But I think her canon speaks especially clearly to Austen fans. She was one of us, clearly; witness the heavy referencing of Pride and Prejudice in You’ve Got Mail (“and I bet you just LOVE that Mr. Darcy!”), and one of her current development projects, a new adaptation of Lost in Austen. But it’s more than that: far be it from me to compare anybody to Jane, or to Nora Ephron, for that matter, but I don’t think “a certain parallelism” is too strong a phrase here. Jane wrote funny, wise stories about the interactions of men, women, friends, and families in her time, and published them as a woman in a sea of professional men; Ephron did the same, only in Manhattan and with a Twitter account. Jane’s magnum opus concerned a couple who meet, hate each other, become friends, and fall in love; my family can’t stop quoting Ephron’s version, twenty years later. Without Jane, perhaps there would be no Nora Ephron; without Nora Ephron, would the world love Jane a little bit less? (The specific calling-out of Jane’s work just in the middle of the Great Austen Boom makes me wonder.) They wrote about women—smart women and less-smart women and rebellious women and obedient women and women you’d want to be friends with and women you’d want to marry off to Mr. Collins—and they saw women, and we’re indebted to them for it. Come to think of it, if I were to compare anybody to Jane, maybe it would be Nora Ephron. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so bad.
Go read something smart and funny today, people. Jane and Nora would want it that way.