Leave Jane Austen Out of This


Elizabeth Holmes will lie about almost anything: her dog, what her speaking voice sounds like, the future of her allegedly humanity-saving company. But she’s also apparently willing to lie about how much of Jane Austen’s body of work she knows and can quote from memory, a move that reveals what a true dummy the Theranos founder is, if true.

Why would anyone lie about being able to quote Jane Austen from memory? Holmes went to Stanford, a place where plenty of smart people go—but even then, she was only there for a year before dropping out and she was set to study chemical engineering. It’s fine if you didn’t take English or philosophy classes your freshman year or if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. You don’t have to (there’s a movie). But a report from Vanity Fair points out that this was just one of Holmes’s many talking points about herself and how brilliant she was, as seen in her 2014 New Yorker profile:

Although she can quote Jane Austen by heart, she no longer devotes time to novels or friends, doesn’t date, doesn’t own a television, and hasn’t taken a vacation in ten years. Her refrigerator is all but empty, as she eats most of her meals at the office. She is a vegan, and several times a day she drinks a pulverized concoction of cucumber, parsley, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and celery.

According to Vanity Fair, which spoke to former Theranos employees, Holmes wasn’t all that well-read, and probably couldn’t quote Austen at all:

One former Theranos employee reached out to me to recount how small and petty her lies could be. This person suggested that Holmes’s comment about being able to quote Jane Austen in a New Yorker profile was nonsense […] She touted the titles of works of philosophy that she had absorbed. According to this former employee, however, it was all fiction. Colleagues who questioned her about the canon found that Holmes’s intellect was mostly superficial.

Vanity Fair points out that Holmes also told the New Yorker that she didn’t date. But Holmes was dating someone at the time: Sunny Balwani—she just hid it because he was the No. 2 of her company, John Carreyrou told Business Insider in January.

Why lie about that? All of Holmes’s spiel was to make her seem smarter than she was, more capable of building a company that could revolutionize medicine and save lives—but not dating and being obsessed with 18th century English novelists sounds like any maladjusted grad student. And they are not usually seen as paragons of business or groundbreaking technological advancements. I don’t know which is more telling: that she thought she’d get away with this, or that she thought this was a good ruse to commit to.

Then again, this is a woman who spoke in a fake baritone voice in order to communicate how knowledgable and trustworthy she is!! In the grand scheme of things, a lot of people probably lie about having read Jane Austen, which makes Holmes totally, totally ordinary.

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