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“Praying with Jane” – a Review by Laura Boyle

praying with jane

In Praying with Jane, Rachel Dodge has managed to present Jane Austen’s life “in a style entirely new”, taking a closer look at the heart behind the one of the most beloved authors of all time. Much of what is known of Jane’s life comes in the form of her (censored) letters and the reminiscences of family members. While these details paint a cheerful and amusing picture, that which made Jane, Jane, lies at the heart of the three existing prayers we have that she wrote for use during evening prayers. We do not know why she wrote them- whether out of an overflow of devotion or at the bequest of some family member, but the serious, heartfelt tone, when examined, adds a deeper shade to our understanding of the writer.  These are no “vain repetitions”, but rather intimate, whole life lessons, summing up the core values of a woman once noted for her desire for anonymity.

In this book, Rachel Dodge closely examines each line of each prayer, in a day by day format, allowing for a 31 day devotional, to be used either in succession, or occasionally. Using Jane’s own historical background as well as Ms. Dodge’s extensive knowledge of Austen’s fictional works, the prayers are placed into context in Jane’s life, along with insightful ways to apply them to our own, often busy, lives. Each day includes related scripture as well as a call to prayer and worship as the reader seeks to apply Jane’s prayers to her own life. This breaking down works amazingly well to draw out the depth of Austen’s own writing and brings the reader a greater appreciation of Austen’s already acknowledged genius with language and the human heart.

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Jane Austen: Family Therapist?

jane austen family

by Patrice Sarath

Bath High Street. I think Austen would still recognize the place. (photograph by author)

One of the joys of re-reading Jane Austen’s novels is finding something new each time, bringing with it a deeper understanding of her characters and the society in which they live. Although Austen is known as a romance writer (and, I would argue, the inventor of modern romance structure), I find her illustration of family dynamics to be the most appealing aspect of her work, and the reason she has fans around the world, across time and culture. She invites us into her life and times, and we recognize ourselves and our families in her characters.

Sometimes a re-read lets me see something I’ve missed the dozens of reads before. For instance, in Pride & Prejudice, when Jane catches cold and has to stay overnight at Netherfield, I had read the book countless times before it occurred to me that this wasn’t a ‘Regency thing’. It was just as embarrassing for Jane as if it had happened to someone in the 21st century. Mrs. Bennet’s brazenness in engineering the whole thing became even worse when I looked at it from that standpoint. Can you imagine — going to a stranger’s house for tea and then having to stay overnight for days? And the doctor has to come? Poor Jane!

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Pride and Prejudice and “Universally Acknowledged” “Truths”

Pride and Prejudice and “Universally Acknowledged” “Truths”

by Seth Snow

[Note: Throughout this essay, when I refer to specific words from Pride and Prejudice¸ I will put these words in quotation marks.]

Jane Austen’s readers are quite familiar with the opening line of Pride and Prejudice:

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

This passage raises several issues.  Firstly, marriage is obviously important to characters in this novel.  Secondly, “universally acknowledged” would mean all members of this particular society are aware, likely even in agreement, of the “truth” concerning wealthy single men who “must be in want” of wives.  Consequently, when a wealthy man comes onto the scene, the socially “acknowledged” expectation is that these men “must be in want” of a wife solely due to their single status and financial status.  Whatever thoughts or feelings on marriage that these wealthy men may have are secondary to the “acknowledged” “truth.”  The same can be said for single women: their thoughts and feelings on marriage must align with this “universally acknowledged” “truth”; while some women privately may object to “universally acknowledged” “truths,” we do not get the “wife’s” point of view in the opening line.  Therefore, a single woman is expected to marry whichever “single man in possession of good fortune” proposes to her. Finally, it is important to note that the narrator does not say “the truth” but rather “a truth.”  “A truth” suggests that other “truths” are not “acknowledged” and that it is not the only “truth” out there.  This particular “truth,” however, has become “universal” because norms of society “acknowledge” it is “true” and the minds of its members have been conditioned by these norms.  Being different or thinking differently initially means remaining single in the world of Pride and Prejudice.

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A Library Talk About Jane Austen

by Margaret Mills

As a part-time adult education lecturer in English literature and history, I am never happier than when I am asked to deliver a course or a talk about Jane Austen’s life and work.

In October 2017 I was asked to give a talk at our local public library, and I was delighted to hear that this library, along with others in Essex, has decided to offer talks and refreshments in the evenings, when the library would normally be closed to the general public.  This particular library is offering a varied programme of different talks, and considering this is a fairly new venture, I was pleased to find that an audience of 18 people attended, all interested in learning more about Jane, aided by a slide presentation and followed by refreshments and a discussion.  Thanks to the articles and comments in the Jane Austen News I was also able to bring into my talk some more recent developments and discoveries about Jane, her life and times.

People are often surprised at how relatively unknown Jane was as an author at the time of her death.   The comment made by the verger of Winchester Cathedral to a gentleman visiting her grave is a perfect example of this: ‘Pray, sir, can you tell me whether there was anything particular about that lady: so many people want to know where she was buried?’ (Austen Leigh, James Edward. A Memoir of Jane Austen).  This really sums things up.   In today’s world, where we are inundated with the cult of ‘celebrity’, (too often based on very little in the way of genuine talent and ability), it strikes many people as amazing that she was seemingly content to stay in the background. Her letters to her beloved older sister, Cassandra, often project a wistful desire for recognition and acknowledgement, but this is concealed behind a self-effacing, dry humour.

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Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

by Alice Chandler, author of Aunt Jane and the Missing Cherry Pie

I do apologize for the pun in my title.

The Olifant I refer to is Margaret Olifant (1828-1894), a prolific and popular nineteenth-century writer and said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite novelist. The reason that I figuratively place Olifant in the same room as Jane Austen is that she was such a trenchant and perceptive critic of Austen’s work.

Austen was not always fortunate in her woman critics during the century after her death. While famous male authors lauded her and often compared her work to Shakespeare’s, some notable women writers were very critical of her writing.  Her contemporary Mary Mitford, whose mother actually knew Jane Austen, was well-known in her time for her charming short novel, Our Village. Mitford disliked Elizabeth Bennett as a character and criticized “the entire want of taste that could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy.”

 Charlotte Bronte was particularly negative about Austen. She compared her writing to a “daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face” and complained that her work “lacked poetry.” She thought that Austen’s novels delineated “the surface… lives of genteel English people.”  But they ignored “what throbs fast and full… what the blood rushes through… the unseen seat of life.” Or to put it more simply, her books had no heart. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was similarly, though less violently, critical of Austen’s passionlessness. She found her novels perfect but shallow.

Whi Continue reading Jane Austen and the Oliphant in the Room

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The Enduring Love For Jane Austen

By Jon Michail

Jane Austen passed away 200 years ago, yet the names of Lizzy Bennet and Mr Darcy are familiar even to people who have never picked up one of Austen’s novels.

Then there are those who have read Austen’s works…. countless times. The academics, the Janeites, and those who simply appreciate her work for its place in classic literature.

Austen’s books have been translated into over 35 languages. Over 100,000 people make the pilgrimage to Jane’s homes each year and there are over 30 Jane Austen Societies worldwide, the largest of which (The Jane Austen Society of North America) has more than 70 branches. Over fifty Jane Austen events and festivals are held each year across the world and her works have inspired at least 75 movies or television series. More than 20,000 fan fiction novels have been published, based on Jane’s life, work, and characters, and there are over 7,000 Austen related websites and social media profiles online.

A new book aiming to satisfy this craving for all things Austen is Caroline Jane Knight’s Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage. Part history, part memoir, Knight’s book shines a new light on the places, traditions and family that shaped and were shaped by the author so many people love and admire.

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Aunt Jane’s Trial

Jane Leigh Perrot

The Trial of Mrs Jane Leigh Perrot – the Primary Sources

by David Pugsley

Discussions of Aunt Jane’s trial and the question whether she was innocent or guilty are normally based entirely on John Pinchard’s account, conveniently re-printed in MacKinnon’s Grand Larceny (1937), as if there was no other source of information and as if all the witnesses were telling the truth. However, there are other contemporary sources

 

I. The advertisements in the Bath Chronicle and other local newspapers

Jane Leigh Perrot

There is a series of advertisements in the Bath Chronicle for no. 1, Bath Street, near or opposite the King’s Bath: 14 May and 16 July 1795, Gregory & Co; 19 May 1796, 5 and 12 January 1797, W Smith; 11 May 1797, Smith, “Mrs Smith is also just returned with an elegant assortment of Millinery, etc”; 29 June 1797, Smith; 8 November 1798, 28 March and 4 April, 21 November                   (“The Proprietor”) 1799, 6 February, 10 and 17 April, and 11 more dates in 1800; 10 dates in 1801; 12 dates in 1802; 10 dates in 1803, plus 8 and 15 December (death of W. Smith); 8 dates in 1804; 9 dates in 1805; 8 dates in 1806, including 18 December (“A vacancy for an apprentice at Christmas”); and 3 dates in 1807, ending on 19 March, all Mrs Smith.

Contrast Elizabeth Gregory’s evidence under cross-examination by Mr Dallas: “Witness said she had been in the shop nearly five years; kept it two years herself; is sister to Mrs Smith, who kept it before; Mr Smith in London 8th August; carried on business on her own account, not for the benefit of Smith and wife” (Pinchard, p. 10). Under further cross-examination: “Mrs Smith was not entitled to more of the profits than witness chose to give her … She bought and sold upon her own account and in her own name; it is customary and advantageous that the old name should be continued on shops, and it was sometimes done for years after a person had given up trade; Smith’s name was continued over the door with this view only” (Pinchard, p. 12).

(Were Elizabeth Gregory and Charles Filby taking advantage of Mrs Smith’s absence in Cornwall to try to make a little money for themselves?) Continue reading Aunt Jane’s Trial

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Oxford asks: Which Jane?

which jane?

by Elizabeth Jane Timms

which jane?

As part of the 200th anniversary events to commemorate Jane Austen’s death, the Bodleian Libraries launched its major summer 2017 exhibition in June, asking the intriguing question to its visitors – “Which Jane”? The exhibition seeks to challenge previously held views of Jane, arguing that she was perhaps, driven by ambition, as we might understand a career woman in the modern sense. “Which Jane” is complimented by a superb array of Austen material – some of which will be on public display for the first time – and a programme of events which will run alongside the exhibition, such as the free lecture on the special project to recreate Jane’s brown silk pelisse coat, today in the collections of Hampshire Council. Other free lectures seek to explore Jane’s relationship with her publishers, Thomas Egerton and John Murray, to ask whether or not Jane’s experience as a woman writing at the time was a typical one, and whether in fact, they took professional risks in publishing her work. Continue reading Oxford asks: Which Jane?