A Forgotten Side of Jane Austen
Perhaps I am of a somewhat rarer breed, but yes, I am a man who has a love for Jane Austen’s books. Will my masculinity be compromised if I admit that not only do I find her novels witty and wise, but that I unfailingly catch myself rooting for her heroes and heroines to find true love? If so, I’m in good company, for such esteemed writers as E.M. Forester, Henry James, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis were all big fans of her writing.
So, as I was researching for the chapter on Pride and Prejudice that will be included in my forthcoming book "75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories Behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film" (coming November 1, 2015), I spent some time revisiting her books and reading some biographical studies. In that process I discovered that among the papers she left behind at her death were a small collection of prayers, probably written for use with her family during evening devotions. These prayers are not widely known, but they should be. For Jane Austen’s prayers are beautiful, heartfelt, and reveal a gentle and genuine faith.
In the hope of making these prayers more widely known to fans of her writing, I have gathered them together in a small Victorian-style hardcover volume, along with an essay that explores the influence of her Christian faith upon her life and her work. Hopefully Jane Austen fans will be pleased to discover another side of one of the world’s most popular writers.
“Incline us, O God, to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.” (from The Prayers of Jane Austen)
Among the unexpected delights of these prayers is realizing how earnestly Jane Austen desired a deeper self-awareness, and how clearly she saw that she could often be unkind, judgmental, or dismissive toward others. In other words, she personally struggled with many of the same issues as the characters in her novels! She understood human nature—and her own natural tendencies—so she asked for God’s help and forgiveness as she examined the dark corners of her own soul.
Another common theme evident in Jane Austen’s prayers is her sense of gratitude. The joy with which she lived her life, the love and care she felt for friends and family, and her thankfulness toward God shine forth from each of these prayers.
After becoming familiar with the prayers of this remarkable lady I think I have come to love Jane Austen’s novels even more. I hope that reading this collection of prayers—and praying them along with her—might do the same for you.
--The Prayers of Jane Austen is available from my website or your favorite retailer.