I recently came across the existence of Jane Austen’s prayers while reading the annotated Pride and Prejudice. Before that, I’d never known such a thing existed, despite having read numerous biographies and books about her and her writings. I knew we had many of her letters; I’d even read the deleted chapter if Persuasion, but I’d never heard that she’d written anything overtly religious until an entry in the annotations (right across the page from Mr. Darcy’s disastrous first proposal).

But it isn’t surprising that, like her heroines, she had a more serious side, sensitive to morality and religion. After all, her father and two of her brothers were in the church. And her prayers were not private confession of faith, but were probably read during family prayers at the end of the day (she mentions evening devotions in one of her surviving letters).

In studying her prayers, Bruce Stovall notes that they “are communal in nature. Though one person is reading, they are the prayers of the family, not a person…” This is also how prayers are discussed in Mansfield Park, when Henry Crawford comments that it’s hard to listen to prayers read by someone else without his wanting to take over and read them, more effectively, himself. (Mary also makes a comment about how hard a ritual of prayers would be, particularly if the chaplain wasn’t worth looking at.)

Below are some of my favorite quotes from her prayers, particularly since they reflect the subject matter and themes of her novels. The entire text of her three prayers can be found here.

“Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray,
as to deserve to be heard,
to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips.”
It makes me think of characters like Willoughby or Wickham, who appear good but whose hearts are far from what they often say and do.
Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own Hearts,
and bring to our knowledge every fault of Temper and
every evil Habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own Souls.
This was quoted next to Mr. Darcy’s proposal, and Elizabeth definitely helps him become aware of his faults of Temper, while he helps her realize her evil habit of priding herself on her own perceptions and understandings of others.
Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live,
of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserve
to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.
This accentuates the differences between characters like Anne Elliot or Emma, who spend regret actions they did, even if they would not or could not have changed them, and characters like Wickham and Willoughby, who show no regret, or regret something which they could have prevented.
Give us grace to endeavour after a truly Christian spirit
to seek to attain that temper of forbearance and patience of which our blessed saviour has set us the highest example;
and which, while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness
of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment
of what this world can give.
And her novels show this prayer in action, as all her heroines must learn forbearance of temper and a certain level of patience before they are rewarded with their respective happy endings.
Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by cfourcalvin, Creative Commons

 

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