On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Ten
By Jane Austen


The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

Chapter Ten of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Patience with examples drawn from Jane Austen’s Persuasion

As Karen wrote

Like all virtues, patience is the mean between an excess and a deficiency. The excessive vice related to suffering is wrath. Evil and suffering should result in a righteous anger. To fulfill the admonition of Paul to “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26 ESV) requires patience that is the fruit of the Spirit. Patience is a virtue, not in overlooking wrong, but in refusing to do wrong in overcoming wrong. But untempered by patience, such an impulse becomes wrath. On the deficient side of the scale is a lack of spirit or carelessness or sloth. If in the face of evil or suffering one simply does not care, no patience is required. But such lack of care is, like wrath, a vice. Patience is not inaction. As the Bible says in James 5:11, patience is not passivity but perseverance. When faced with suffering or wrong, the virtuous person responds neither with wrath nor with stoicism but with patience. A person who has true patience is “angrily virtuous,”whether that means giving time for the emotional heat to subside before acting or simply waiting for the slow wheels of justice to turn.

What, beyond waiting, are the necessary components of the virtue of patience?


On Reading Well


Jane Austen: Modern (1775–1817)


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
“Do not you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? how can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”

Today she is one of the most towering figures in literature, but she passed through life almost anonymously. Fittingly, the only authenticated portrait of her is a partially complete watercolor by her sister.  She could not have dreamt that Pride and Prejudice would sell tens of millions of copies and that she would achieve such fame and lofty status.

John Mark Reynolds wrote this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

It was a lightly regarded novelist of manners who has endured best to our day. A few people noticed her genius, Sir Walter Scott in particular. Scott was the great writer of his day—now too little read—and he defended “light” novels as worthwhile. The spare prose of Austen found fewer readers then, but Scott was right that the realistic and plain portrayal of one portion of English life was an important trend in literature.

Jane Austen is abused by some English departments eager for a “great woman writer” and obsessed with making the same ideological points in every book read. Austen refuses to fit neat categories. She obviously opposed the reduction of women to mindless objects for male entertainment, but in a revolutionary age, one thoroughly roiled by notions of radical emancipation, Austen was no revolutionary. She was a progressive conservative . . . a Christian in the tradition of Saint Paul.


Why has Jane Austen’s writing remained so popular?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.


D I G  D E E P E R

Truths Universally to Be Acknowledged

John Mark Reynolds


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

A book full of universal truths begins with a claim about truth that isn’t. As the novel will show, not all single rich men have thoughts of, or even are in very great need of, a wife. Is the long-suffering Mr. Bennet really better off married? Perhaps, but it is not obviously so, and certainly his is not a situation most men would envy.

In fact, Austen has written a book in which many such truths are exposed as the result of pride and/or more prejudice. Both pride and prejudice get in the way of love, and the universal truth she reveals is that both men and women of any fortune are in desperate need of love from someone other than themselves.

Austen argues by demonstration and by showing the folly of alternatives. If you have not read the whole book, please stop reading this essay, go get a copy, and finish Pride and Prejudice. It’s a truth universally to be acknowledged that people who do not actually read all of a great book before discussing it spoil the power of the book when they return to it later.

My assumption is that these chapters have reminded you of the Bennet family—especially the nature of the daughters and of the tension that exists between Darcy and Elizabeth. They eventually marry (I warned you to stop reading if you didn’t know the outcome), but only when both have been purged of a great deal of pride and prejudice.

All the Bennet daughters lack something, and that something is not a man. In Austen, marriage is not the coming together of two equals but the coming together of two human beings who are very different yet compatible. Men are not women; women are not men. It is the fusing of the two “others” that makes marriage explosively fruitful.

Two become one, and civilization gets three!


Austen knew nothing of our modern quest for equality. People are not numbers, and so they are never “equal.” Some folk are higher placed than others, have more money, were more fortunate in their parents, or are brighter. These gifts do not come to us by merit but by the unfathomable providence of God.

At the same time, foolish people might confuse graces bestowed by God with actual merit. Mr. Collins, as odious and pitiable a man as one can imagine, makes this error. Wealthy patrons are better in their potency, but they may not have done anything with their graces. Abilities or gifts without works are worse than useless, and one who has been given much should be expected to do much. Mr. Darcy lives up to the expectations of his gifts; Mr. Collins’s patron does not.

Austen didn’t make the French Revolutionaries’ mistake of assuming that the plumber could become a professor by legal declaration and wishing it to be so. On the other hand, she also does not make the pitiable error of the Old Regime and assume that all lords are lordly.
Instead she is deeply conservative, because she is an advocate of love. Love knows nothing of equality, because the lover always elevates the Beloved above all others. Nobody makes a lover cling only to his beloved and forsake all others. Passion demands it, at least at first. It is an essential feature of Christian civilization to insist that this love vow be cherished and honored.

Men and women aren’t allowed to swear eternal fidelity and then forget. They must renew their vows and grow in love to each other. The trouble is that love, while necessary, isn’t enough this side of paradise. Ideally, all Beloveds should be worthy of our love, but not all are fit objects of our passion.

Lydia, the passionate sister, makes the mistake of believing that love always reports truly on the character of the Beloved. Sadly, she has fixed her attentions on someone unworthy of her love. Her prejudice that a man who is lovely and should be good is worthy of love and good, will ruin her by the end of the book.

God bestows great gifts on human beings with perfect justice, but not all gifts we are given come from God. Some gifts come from society or culture, and it is here that problems develop. Civilization will stunt the progress of women so that marriage to Mr. Collins is more desirable than marriage to a fit man. Mr. Collins will be given social position he misuses and does not deserve while more fit men are passed over.

Austen didn’t pretend this system is just; while it needed to be changed, it could only be changed slowly, or the revolution would cause more pain than it brought pleasure. She saw things as they were—didn’t always like them but accepted what must be accepted. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is too demanding of life.

Elizabeth demands perfect justice and knowledge that justice has been done. This is ideal, but unrealistic. Charity, absolute romance, demands that in a fallen world we judge by the standard by which we wish to be judged. She misjudges Darcy, but that’s not her only problem. She requires too much of the world, and she lacks mercy. Even with her friends she’s too quick to assume she knows what’s best.

It’s a truth universally to be acknowledged that love between beings as different as men and women can only work when the men and women are fully human. It is their common humanity, the virtue of exhibiting God’s image, that makes the dangerous fusion of two “others” fecund and not just explosive. Austen demonstrated a temporary truth, an ideal so valuable in our age, one that before Christ returns will never quite be realized. We will have to be charitable even to Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, understanding that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Becoming Jane

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

Jane Austen

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.

This must have been a bittersweet day for Jane. On January 28th, 1813 her finest novel, Pride and Prejudice was finally published. At 38 she was still a young woman, but the novel had been written since she was 22. “At last!” she must have thought, and perhaps it seemed to her that she was finally on her way.  Little did she know, she would be dead just a few years later at the tender age of 41.

Today she is one of the most towering figures in literature, but she passed through life almost anonymously. Fittingly, the only authenticated portrait of her is a partially complete watercolor by her sister.  She could not have dreamt that Pride and Prejudice would sell over 20 million copies and that she would achieve such fame and lofty status.

Her life has much to teach us about the context of our existence. A proverb from ancient Greece says ““Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Fittingly, its author is anonymous.  Great achievements are only rarely quickly understood.

IMG_01811 John 3:2

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.


Dig Deeper

Art: Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen, circa 1810

The only authenticated picture of Austen is a small pencil and watercolor sketch made by her sister, Cassandra, on display in the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Even so, Jane’s relatives were not entirely convinced by it: ‘there is a look which I recognize as hers’, her niece wrote, ‘though the general resemblance is not strong, yet as it represents a pleasing countenance it is so far a truth.’ It is the basis for a late nineteenth-century engraving, commissioned by Austen’s nephew.

Literature and Liturgy: Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen was born at Steventon on December 16, 1775, the youngest of seven children. She received her education—scanty enough, by modern standards—at home. Besides the usual elementary subjects, she learned French and some Italian, sang a little, and became an expert needle-woman. Her reading extended little beyond the literature of the eighteenth century, and within that period she seems to have cared most for the novels of Richardson and Miss Burney, and the poems of Cowper and Crabbe. Dr. Johnson, too, she admired, and later was delighted with both the poetry and prose of Scott. The first twenty-five years of her life she spent at Steventon; in 1801 she moved with her family to Bath, then a great center of fashion; after the death of her father in 1805, she lived with her mother and sister, first at Southampton and then at Chawton; finally she took lodgings at Winchester to be near a doctor, and there she died on July 18, 1817, and was buried in the cathedral. Apart from a few visits to friends in London and elsewhere, and the vague report of a love affair with a gentleman who died suddenly, there is little else to chronicle in this quiet and uneventful life.

But quiet and uneventful though her life was, it yet supplied her with material for half a dozen novels as perfect of their kind as any in the language. While still a young girl she had experimented with various styles of writing, and when she completed “Pride and Prejudice” at the age of twenty-two, it was clear that she had found her appropriate form. This novel, which in many respects she never surpassed, was followed a year later by “Northanger Abbey,” a satire on the “Gothic” romances then in vogue; and in 1809 she finished “Sense and Sensibility,” begun a dozen years before. So far she had not succeeded in having any of her works printed; but in 1811 “Sense and Sensibility” appeared in London and won enough recognition to make easy the publication of the others. Success gave stimulus, and between 1811 and 1816, she completed “Mansfield Park,” “Emma,” and “Persuasion.” The last of these and “Northanger Abbey” were published posthumously.

The most remarkable characteristic of Jane Austen as a novelist is her recognition of the limits of her knowledge of life and her determination never to go beyond these limits in her books. She describes her own class, in the part of the country with which she was acquainted; and both the types of character and the events are such as she knew from first-hand observation and experience. But to the portrayal of these she brought an extraordinary power of delicate and subtle delineation, a gift of lively dialogue, and a peculiar detachment. She abounds in humor, but it is always quiet and controlled; and though one feels that she sees through the affectations and petty hypocrisies of her circle, she seldom becomes openly satirical. The fineness of her workmanship, unexcelled in the English novel, makes possible the discrimination of characters who have outwardly little or nothing to distinguish them; and the analysis of the states of mind and feeling of ordinary people is done so faithfully and vividly as to compensate for the lack of passion and adventure. She herself speaks of the “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work,” and, in contrast with the broad canvases of Fielding or Scott, her stories have the exquisiteness of a fine miniature.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was published anonymously in three volumes in 1813. The narrative, which Austen initially titled “First Impressions,” describes the clash between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich and aristocratic landowner. Although Austen shows them intrigued by each other, she reverses the convention of first impressions: “pride” of rank and fortune and “prejudice” against Elizabeth’s inferiority of family hold Darcy aloof, while Elizabeth is equally fired both by the pride of self-respect and by prejudice against Darcy’s snobbery. Ultimately, they come together in love and self-understanding.

The 2005 film with Keira Knightly was nominated for four Academy Awards


Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Barbour Publishing Inc, Book Lover’s Devotional (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour, 2011).

Jane Austen, Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction 3: Laurence Stern, Jane Austen, ed. William Allan Neilson (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1917), 145–147.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).