Author Rachel Dodge details the inspirations and process behind her new book Praying with Jane.
“Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister Jane”My first introduction to Jane Austen’s prayers, over a decade ago, happened by chance. I was in graduate school, working on my master’s thesis on Pride and Prejudice, when I found them at the back of the Chapman edition of Austen’s novels (in the Minor Works volume). At the time, I thought the prayers were beautifully written and wondered why I had heard so little about them. As I began to study Austen’s prayers more closely, I discovered that they are, of course, much more than beautiful. They provide a unique glimpse into her private life and offer clues as to how her faith impacted the way she lived, worked, and wrote. Reading her prayers is a bit like looking into her heart. In them, we get to know another side of her personality—a more serious and reverent side. They reveal her deep, personal faith in Jesus Christ and a tender intimacy with her Heavenly Father. In preparation for writing Praying with Jane, I studied the many biographies, books, and scholarly articles about Austen’s faith and those that mention her prayers; read and re-read her letters and the Austen family papers and memoirs; and examined the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Several trips to the Austen, Knight, and Leigh family homes and churches in England, particularly in Bath, Chawton, Steventon, and Winchester, aided my understanding of the lives of devout Anglicans during Austen’s lifetime. I also studied the original manuscripts of the prayers at the Elinor Raas Heller Rare Book Room at Mills College. There, I transcribed the prayers as faithfully as possible, keeping the original capitalization and punctuation intact. The scholarly process also led me on a spiritual journey. The more time I spent with Austen’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 her intricate language. I found myself praying my own prayers alongside hers and reflecting on the rich meaning they possess. And I was delighted to find fascinating connections between the themes in her prayers and the themes in her novels. Praying with Jane invites readers to connect with Austen’s prayers in a personal way. In it, I break the three prayers down into 31 daily devotional readings, allowing readers to slow down and savour the language, meaning, and lessons found in each line. I include examples from Austen’s novels, letters, and family memoirs to illustrate each day’s theme. Every entry also includes Scripture references, personal application, and an invitation to “pray with Jane.” My understanding and enjoyment of Austen’s life and works has only deepened as a result of researching and writing this book, and I hope that many of Austen’s devoted fans will join me in exploring her exquisite prayers and her touching life of faith.
****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 has an M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Creative Writing. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen, of which we have signed copies with free complementary bookmarks available in our online giftshop. Rachel's website can be found at www.RachelDodge.com.