Rachel Dodge is a Jane Austen scholar and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. She teaches college writing and literature classes and gives talks at local book clubs, libraries, and literary groups. Rachel is a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World blog, Write That Book, Regency World Magazine, and the award-winning Inspire Writers blog. She was the keynote speaker at the Sacramento Public Library’s “How Austentatious!” series, Notable Books series, and 2014 Jane Austen Birthday Tea.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Southern California (B.A. in English and public relations) and California State University, Sacramento (M.A. in English literature). She wrote her Master’s Thesis on etiquette in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and won the 2005 Dominic J. Bazzanella Literary Award in non-fiction for “Pictures of (Im)perfection: Jane Austen’s ‘Delightful’ Elizabeth Bennet.” She is an active member of Inspire Writers, JASNA, JASNA Greater Sacramento, the L.M. Montgomery Institute, Write that Book, Literary Life, and several Downton Abbey and Jane Austen fan clubs.
“Light, like the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, shattering those who resist it but healing those who embrace it.” (Markos 169)
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes our world as a battlefield. He says we are living in “enemy-occupied territory” (Book 2, Chapter 2). Just turn on the news or read the headlines from around the world, and you’ll see that he’s right. We live in a dark world that seems to only be getting darker.
Born in Steventon, Hampshire, on this day, December 16th in 1775, Jane Austen entered the world a full month later than her mother “expected.” Her entire family eagerly anticipated her arrival, and from the beginning, Jane enjoyed a close relationship with her father. After his death when Jane was nearly twenty, she wrote these words to her brother Frank:
“His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” She called him “an excellent Father” and referred to “the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him.”
Jane’s personal experience of a father surely shaped her understanding of God as a father. She grew up with a loving, attentive father—one who was interested, kind, and present.
We have come to the end of our study. Below are the closing lines from each of Jane’s three prayers. With these words, Jane concludes her own prayers and leads into the Lord’s Prayer, which would have most likely been recited out loud, corporately. In these lines, Jane asks their “Almighty God” and “most merciful Father” to hear their prayers, “for His sake who has redeemed us,” referring to their “Blessed Saviour,” Jesus Christ, saying that it’s in his name and “Words” that they pray.
In this portion of her prayer, Jane prays for the “safety and welfare” of her family and friends, asking God to keep them from “all material & lasting Evil of Body or Mind.” She also asks for the “assistance of [God’s] Holy Spirit” to conduct herself on earth and looks forward to “an Eternity of Happiness” with her family in God’s “Heavenly Kingdom.”
In this portion of her prayer, Jane asks God to “look with compassion” on those who are “afflicted,” experiencing the “pangs of disease,” or who are “broken in spirit.” In Jane’s novels, when someone is ill or distressed, their friends and family provide tangible help and comfort. In the same way, Jane and Cassandra frequently nursed family members when they were ill.
In Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter, Irene Collins says Jane was “encouraged to strengthen her faith by prayer and worship but to make her witness in the world through her behavior to others rather than by preaching.” Though Jane’s father and brothers did preach from a pulpit, she herself preached a more subtle sermon in the way she lived and wrote.
Jane experienced a season in her life that was marked by loss and change. In 1797, Cassandra’s fiancé died in the West Indies. In 1801, Jane’s father retired and moved their family to Bath, away from her beloved Hampshire. Then in 1806, while in Bath, her dear father died suddenly and without warning. Jane didn’t write as much during her years in Bath, which some attribute to a lack of inspiration or a dislike of the town itself. However, it may be that Jane was affected most by who and what she lost while living there.
Austen’s novels are littered with characters who perhaps end up with better than they deserve. Edmund, after following Miss Crawford around like a lovesick puppy and giving up ground on many moral issues, still ends up with kind Fanny; Emma is forgiven her many failings and faults and marries generous Mr. Knightley; and Edward Ferrars, after making a foolish secret engagement with Lucy Steele, marries sensible Elinor. Grace is given and lessons are learned.
Jane once wrote in a letter to Cassandra, “I had a very pleasant evening, however, though you will probably find out that there was no particular reason for it; but I do not think it worthwhile to wait for enjoyment until there is some real opportunity for it.” On another occasion, she wrote this in her typical dry humor: “Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which You know my principal hopes of happiness depend.”
In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price struggles with less than charitable feelings toward Mary Crawford throughout the novel because she is jealous of the time and attention Edmund gives her. As Edmund becomes increasingly interested in Miss Crawford, Fanny is frequently displaced and forgotten: When Miss Crawford needs a horse to ride, she’s given Fanny’s mare; when Miss Crawford wants to walk farther at Sotherton, Fanny is left behind on a bench; and when Miss Crawford goes to the piano to sing, Edmund leaves Fanny’s side to follow. Continue reading “Search Our Hearts, O God”→