Having thoroughly enjoyed reading Praying with Jane, I found the following questions and answers with author, Rachel Dodge fascinating and hope you do too!
Why did you write Praying with Jane?
Praying with Jane is an invitation to Christian women and Jane Austen fans alike to closely explore Austen’s Christian faith and apply her prayers and the lessons in them to their own lives. It’s fascinating to look at the spiritual side of someone like Jane Austen and see how her faith influenced the way she lived, thought, and wrote. Praying with Jane takes readers on a journey through Jane’s prayers toward a closer, more intimate walk with God.
How did you become interested in Jane Austen’s prayers?
I’ve been writing, teaching, and speaking about Jane Austen’s novels and life for almost two decades, and I’ve read her prayers and about her prayers. But when a fellow author asked me one day if I’d ever thought of writing a book about Jane Austen, I said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about her prayers!” The idea took root and didn’t let go. I read her prayers over and over, read every scholarly article and book I could find that mentioned her prayers or faith, and studied her letters and family memoirs closely. The more time I spent with Jane’s prayers, the more they came alive for me. I listened to the cadence of her words and opened my heart to the meaning behind the intricate language. I found myself praying my own prayers alongside hers. Praying with Jane is my way of honoring Jane Austen’s prayers and the legacy of her faith.
How did you come up with the concept of a devotional?
I wrote Praying with Jane as a devotional book because it allows readers to slow down and savor the language, meaning, and lessons found in Jane Austen’s prayers. Her three prayers are lengthy, and the language, just like her novels, is formal and intricate. Reading the prayers straight through is lovely, but a slower, more contemplative look brings out the exquisite depth they possess. In Praying with Jane, readers can open the devotional each day and find a small chunk of one of Jane’s prayers to meditate on, along with personal application, biblical concepts, and spiritual lessons. Jane Austen fans will particularly enjoy excerpts from her novels, letters, and family memoirs that help illustrate each day’s theme.
Many people know and love Jane Austen’s novels, but not as much is known about her prayers. What should we know?
Besides her novels, juvenilia, and minor works, Jane Austen wrote three prayers. Her sister, Cassandra, folded them together and inscribed the words “Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister Jane” on the outside. They were passed down by her family and kept safe for future generations. In the prayers, Austen’s writing style is similar to the prayers found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy of the Church of England (or the Anglican Church). Each one includes a time of thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession. They are written on two quarto sheets, printed front and back, and housed at The Elinor Raas Heller Rare Book Room at Mills College. I had the honor of viewing the original manuscripts during my research for Praying with Jane—and it’s a day I won’t soon forget!
Can you tell us more about Jane Austen’s family and how their Christian faith affected their daily life?
Jane’s father, the Reverend George Austen, was an Anglican clergyman. According to family letters and documents, Reverend Austen devoted himself to his work as a spiritual leader in his parish and his home. Thus, Jane Austen grew up immersed in the traditions of the Church of England. The life of devoted Anglicans in Austen’s day is touching: Their religious life extended far beyond the morning and evening church services they attended on Sundays. They shared in corporate family prayers in the morning and evening, they said their own private prayers when they woke up and went to bed each day, and they prayed as a family before meals and again in thanksgiving afterward. In the evening, the Austen family enjoyed reading out loud from novels, poetry, sermons, and the Bible. On one Sunday evening when the family was unable to attend church, Jane wrote in a letter, “In the evening we had the Psalms and Lessons, and a sermon at home.”1 It’s possible that Jane shared her prayers during their family evening devotions.
What do we know about Jane Austen’s personal faith?
Jane Austen’s prayers, daily habits, and family memoirs all point to a personal faith in Christ and a commitment to following the teachings of the Bible. Family documents reveal she was a devoted daughter, sister, aunt, and friend who lived out her faith in practical ways, in the way she spent her time, how she related to others, and how she wrote. Her nieces and nephews commented in letters and memoirs about the example she set as an aunt, as an author, and as a Christian. Jane was intimately familiar with the devotional literature and sermons of her day. She “cherished” William Vickers’ Companion to the Altar and “made constant use of the prayers and meditations included in it.” 2 She most likely knew many of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer by heart. Finally, a close inspection of her novels reveals subtle moral lessons and biblical themes.
What can readers expect when they read Praying with Jane? Give us a feel for the format.
Praying with Jane is designed to help readers take time with Jane’s prayers, understand each one more fully, and delve into the treasure trove of biblical and practical applications found in each line. Though each of Jane’s three prayers would have most likely been read to her family in its entirety, Praying with Jane breaks them down into daily portions. At the end of each day’s entry, there’s an invitation to pray and a sample prayer. The sample prayers are meant as a starting point for an extended time of personal prayer.
How can readers use Praying with Jane to know Jane Austen better and learn more about her faith?
Reading Jane’s prayers is a bit like looking into her heart. In them, we get to know another side of Jane’s personality—a more serious and reverent side. They reveal a genuine, practical faith in Jesus Christ. Every line displays a balance of robust belief and tender intimacy. And, like her novels, Jane’s prayers contain meaning that reaches far beyond eloquent words or graceful phrases. They are personal and reflective, passionate and thorough. They show us the value she placed on corporate and family prayer. Even more, Jane’s prayers reveal her closeness to God and her desire to be more like Christ.
Rachel, what is your vision and prayer for readers of this book?
Writing Praying with Jane was a dream come true because it allowed me to join together two of the things I’m most passionate about—my Christian faith and my love for Jane Austen! My vision and prayer for this book is to encourage both Christian readers and Jane Austen fans (and everyone in between) to draw closer to God in prayer. It’s my prayer that as readers “pray with Jane,” the Lord will unlock profound truths and hidden promises as they come near to him in expectation.
From the back cover:
While much has been written about Jane Austen’s life and novels, less is known about her spiritual side or the three prayers she wrote. In Praying with Jane, Christian readers and Jane Austen fans can explore Austen’s prayers in an intimate devotional format as they learn about her personal faith, her Anglican upbringing, and the spiritual truths found in her novels. Jane Austen’s faith comes to life in this beautiful 31-day devotional through her exquisite prayers, touching biographical anecdotes, and illuminating scenes from her novels. Each daily entry includes examples from Austen’s own life and novels, as well as key Scripture verses, ideas for personal application, and a prayer inspired by Jane’s petitions.
About the author:
Rachel Dodge teaches college English and Jane Austen classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and Jane Austen groups, and is a writer for the popular Jane Austen’s World blog. She is passionate about prayer and the study of God’s Word. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She makes her home in California with her husband and their two young children.