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.”
Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own Hearts,and bring to our knowledge every fault of Temper andevery evil Habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own Souls.
Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live,of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserveto lose them by Discontent or Indifference.
Give us grace to endeavour after a truly Christian spiritto 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 happinessof the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoymentof what this world can give.