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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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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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Jane Austen’s Bracelet

Included in the collection at Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton are a few pieces of jewellery owned by the Austen women. These include Jane’s gold and turquoise ring, and the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles. Both of these are available at the Jane Austen Gift Shop as beautiful replica pieces. And now, due to great demand, we have at last added our version of the third piece: Jane’s lovely beaded bracelet. Courtesy Jane Austen’s House Museum / Peter Smith Our lovely new replica Made exclusively for us in Somerset, each bracelet is intricately hand strung with Miyuki Glass Seed Beads, and completed with a Sterling Silver Gold Plated Box Clasp. It’s a must for fans and collectors alike, as well as a delightful accessory in its own right. Even Jane approves..! You can see our lovely new replica bracelet here Save (more…)
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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?

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Is Jane Austen a Great Writer?

By Linore Rose Burkard

Quora is growing in popularity. What is Quora? A forum where anyone can ask a question to the world (the world as registered on the site, that is) and expect an answer. The good thing about Quora is that you can ask any question you want, and you might learn a thing or two while browsing answers. The bad thing is that anyone can answer your question—not only experts, but anyone—and the only possible “vetting” is by popularity: people either upvote an answer if they like it, or downvote it if they do not. An upvote doesn’t mean the answer is necessarily correct.  It just means the viewer liked it and voted for it.

What has this to do with defending Jane?

Since I am registered on Quora, I sometimes receive email notifications of new questions. I recently received the following: “Is Jane Austen a great writer?”

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Jane and Cassandra: Extraordinary Sisters

Jane and Cassandra

by Caroline Kerr Taylor

Jane and Cassandra
Anna Maxwell Martin and Anne Hathaway as Cassandra and Jane in the film ‘Becoming Jane’ (2007)

Jane Austen was born in December 1775, the seventh child of Rev. and Mrs. Austen. Mrs. Austen nursed each of her babies for the first few months before they were taken to a neighboring family (the Littleworths). Each child was looked after by this family for the first couple of years until the child could walk and talk. The parents visited regularly during this time, until the child was ready to be brought back into the Austen household. This was not a totally uncommon practice for the time, nor was it considered unfeeling. As long as the baby was well cared for, that was what mattered to the Austens. Knowing today what we know of the importance of mother/baby bonding it would have been extremely disrupting for a child to be taken from its mother after just a few months and placed with another family. (And then, later, wrenched from that family when the Austens felt the child was ready to rejoin their household.) This could be a significant reason why Jane became attached more deeply to her sister than to her mother.

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Jane Austen’s Life and Impact on Society

by Gracelyn Anderson

Jane Austen entered the world fashionably late by one month on December 16, 1775, as one of the seven Austen children. The Austens resided in a parsonage in Steventon, England, and started a small school for boys in their home to provide extra income along with working their usual occupations. Although Jane’s family was constantly working to make a living, her early life was far from dull. As Meredith Hindley writes in her article ‘The Mysterious Miss Austen’: “From an early age, Austen’s world was full of boyish antics, bawdy humor, and outdoor exploration.” Jane had a natural tomboyish instinct, which she picked up from her five brothers.

At age seven, Jane and her sister Cassandra were sent to a girl’s school in Oxford, but it was short lived as they returned home a year later when sick with typhoid. Another year passed and the Austen girls enrolled at Mrs. La Tournelle’s Ladies’ Boarding School in reading, but stayed only for a year. As Hindley writes: “Austen’s experience, however brief, left her with little regard for girls’ schools. In Emma, she writes scathingly of schools that ‘professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems-and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity.’”

Most of Jane’s education came from her father’s library and her lively and affectionate family circle. Jane used the library frequently, reading book after book and writing extensively. Mr. Austen encouraged Jane’s interest in writing and bought her expensive paper and pencils, even though he needed to save every penny. The entire family also put on home productions, adding to Jane’s dramatic experience, which would prove a help in later years when becoming an author. As Renee Warren has written: “One can only assume that it was in these excersises that the true talent of Jane Austen was being nurtured-through observation, improvisation, acting and participation.” Most of all, it was the world that Jane drew from to write. Her early experiences in life paved the way for the her well-known works.

By the age of nineteen, Jane Austen had begun working on “Elinor and Marianne,” which would later become Sense and Sensibility. Jane had been fearlessly experimenting with writing up to the point when she began her first novel. Jane acquired firsthand experience with the cruelty of a world dictated by money over love (much in evidence in her Continue reading Jane Austen’s Life and Impact on Society