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Monday, August 6, 2012

Laura Dabundo: Faith in the Time of Jane Austen

Welcome Dr. Laura Dabundo to Darcyholic Diversions!
 (and the Continuing Countdown to the Decatur Book Festival...
26 Days to Go!)
Hi, Darcyholics!  Today, I would like to introduce you to Dr. Laura Dabundo, a professor at Kennesaw State University.  She is one of three non-fiction authors who will be participating in the Decatur Book Festival. Her book, The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in Jane Austen and William Woodsworth will be available for sale during the festival and she will be doing a book reading a book signings during the event.  I look forward to geting to know her a bit better here, as well as at the book festival over Labor Day weekend.

The information on Decatur Book Festival was updated last Wednesday evening this week, so visit the link again and find out all the details as well as where YOU can stay as we are so excited to have 27--yes TWENTY-SEVEN Austen Inspired Authors participating with us!  Here is the link! It included information about a large hotel room block you can take advantage of if you would like to be with us!

And I am Announcing initial plans for a Darcyholic Holiday eBook Festival.  More Information to come, but send me an email at barbaratillercole@gmail.com if you are an author and would like to participate!!

If you have not read all of the posts for the month of June, there are still seven authors with open drawings.  Check out the archives on the right and read posts from Amy Cecil, William Deresiewicz and Maria Grace and leave a comment.  (On the other June posts, I will be choosing he winners later today and posting them later this week).

Upcoming Guest Posts Are As Follows:
August 7--Laura Hile
August 10--Abigail Reynolds
August 12--Cynthia Hensley
August 14--Colette Saucier
August 17--Regina Jeffers
August 19--KaraLynne Mackrory
August 21--Sally Smith O'Rourke
August 24--Pamela Aidan
August 26--Lory Lilian
August 28--Jack Caldwell
August 31--Decatur Book Festival Eve!
September 2--Live from the Decatur Book Festival
September 4--Fun Stories from the DBF
September 7--Jack Caldwell's Experiences at the DBF
September 11--Karen Cox's Experiences at the DBF
September 14--Mary Simonsen
September 18--Amber G.
September 21--Moira B.
November 2--Amy Patterson
November 13--Karen Doornebos
And Many more to come!
Your comments on Laura Dabundo's post will also be entries into the monthly drawings here at Darcyholic Diversions.  Entries will be based on comments on blog posts; but additional chances will be given for joining this site, tweeting this post, Joining this site as a member via Google Friend Connect (GFC) (See the left hand column on the blog to join!), sharing this on Facebook or your blog, Friend me on Facebook, clicking 'like’ on Barbara Tiller Cole, Author's Facebook page, Join Darcyholic Diversions Facebook Page or following BarbTCole on Twitter.

Faith in the Time of Jane Austen

Jane Austen wrote three prayers which have been published posthumously. On the surface, they seem to invite us to hear a speaker seemingly a world away from the beguilingly ironic and wise narrator of the novels.  Yet, I would like to suggest, maybe the speaker is not so different after all?   
Consider this prayer:  

Give us grace almighty Father, so as to pray as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our hearts, as with our lips. Thou art everywhere present, from thee no secret can be hid.  May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our thoughts on thee, with reverence and devotion that we pray not in vain.
May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing thoughts, words and actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of evil.
Have we thought irreverently of thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we so neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being? Incline us to ask our hearts these questions oh! God, to save us from deceiving ourselves by pride or vanity.
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.
Hear us almighty God, for his sake who has redeemed us, and taught us, thus to pray.
Using the concepts of the prayer, we can see that the novels parade before us people who are prejudiced and proud (say, Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Lady Catherine De Bourgh); who are selfish and cause pain to others because of that (consider John Willoughby, George Wickham, Lucy Steele, Mrs. Norris, General Tilney, et al.); who neglect their duties (as parents, think of Mr. Bennet; as property owners, think of Sir Walter Elliot); who are vain (Caroline Bingley, Fanny Dashwood, etc.)—my cup runneth over with instances in Jane Austen’s novels of characters whose behavior would indicate that they have transgressed God’s commandments! And I have not even mentioned the explicit violators of the Decalogue, the seventh commandment  betrayed by Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford. There may not be murder in the novels, but for virtually every other sin and evil of the human condition Jane Austen’s novels are well represented, leading up to what is the epitome and acme of them, as her prayer shows in the third and fourth paragraphs, above, self-deception, discontent, and indifference. Characters delude themselves; they are dissatisfied with their plights and seek the vanities of the world to pass the time and entertain themselves and distract them from the morality of their putative faith.  
The form of this prayer—that is, of both the directives of the devotion, its instructions, and the act of the suppliant herself, the pray-er, in the act of praying—calls for self-scrutiny, self-reflection, self-discovery. Austen’s novels display the actions that culminate in these states of separation from the divine denoted by the prayer, self-deception, restlessness, tedium, and boredom, and her prayer here offers a path away from those states through gratitude and  submission to the all-knowing deity. Being omniscient, God already knows everyone’s human frailties and failings, so the task for the Christian becomes an imperative to acknowledge  personal shortcomings  to oneself before the Almighty who offers salvation. 
And in Austen’s novels, those characters whom I listed above either are directly challenged and in some ways punished for their waywardness at the ends of their novels or, like Elizabeth and Darcy, are reformed and rewarded. In other words, the prayer offers a counterplot to the novels, a subterranean way through faith and practice to a happy ending. It is a parable of the Gospel experience.
All three prayers of Jane Austen’s prayers seem to me to be similarly wonderfully rich and suggestive of a profoundly Christian believer and practitioner, and I think we need barely to scratch the surface of the novels in order to find that selfsame pattern.  
I shall be at the Decatur Book Festival to meet you and everyone who loves Jane Austen. If what I have written here is of interest to you, I bid you to look at my new book, THE MARRIAGE OF FAITH: CHRISTIANITY IN JANE AUSTEN AND WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, just published by Mercer University Press, for more on these themes, which will be available for sale at the JASNA-Atlanta booth. See you then!


  1. Wonderful post, Laura! and much appreciated insights into what I have seen so often overlooked in the sequels and variations of contemporary versions/spinoffs. JA was a woman of faith lived out and obvious to readers of faith. Her expressions of that faith are evident in her writing and viewpoints spoken as noticed even today in completing my reading of Persuasion. The many gratitudes expressed to God and heaven, the expressed need for time to meditate on the change in circumstances by both Anne and Captain Wentworth. These realities add richness and value and are a serious loss when overlooked or ignored by modern writers who have not taken time, interest or care in evaluating the influence of faith in JA's writing.

    Thank you for bringing this truth forward...

    I would anticipate reading your JA entry with pleasure!

  2. I've wondered why Jane - a clergyman's daughter - let Willoughby flourish in a wealthy marriage after what he did to a 15-y-o girl, or why she wrote such silly clergymen as Collins and Elton. What is your take on that? Also, of all of JA's heroines, which is the most Christian in behavior and values?

    1. Thank you for your comments. Ah, but do you really think that Willoughby flourishes? At the end, in his interview with Elinor, doesn't he sound remorseful, contrite, grieving for what he has lost, what he traded for? And I agree that Austen wanted clergy to be better than Collins and Elton. I think they stand as negative examples of what she often times observed around her. Human nature@

  3. JA wrote that he did well enough: "He lived to exert, and frequently to enjoy himself. His wife was not always out of humour, nor his home always uncomfortable; and in his breed of horses and dogs, and in sporting of every kind, he found no inconsiderable degree of domestic felicity." He apparently didn't pay a farthing to support his illegitimate child; even PP's Wickham suffered with an unhappy marriage to Lydia.

    Which of all JA's heroines do you think is the most Christian in behavior and values? Persuasion's Anne Elliot seems most forgiving, although MP's Fanny Price is up there.

    1. June, I see your point about Willoughby in the quotation, yet I read it differently. For example, the phrase "His wife was not always out of humour, nor his home always uncomfortable" is another way of saying his wife is occasionally in a good mood and his house is occasionally comfortable. Willoughby finds "domestic felicity" in horses, dogs, and "sporting of every kind" rather than love, companionship, and a happy marriage. When Austen writes that Willoughby "lived to exert" and she goes on to list his supposed blessings, it's as if he is TRYING to make his life seem better than the truth. A half-hearted attempt at finding the silver lining. It's not the justice I would seek for a man that seduces, impregnates, and abandons a 15 year old girl, but I have to wonder if Austen had a soft spot for Willoughby since he did genuinely love and want to marry Mariann Dashwood.

  4. Ahhhh..... I see your point now. Thank you!

  5. Such an intriguing post, Laura. I think readers overlook Austen's Christianity because of her satire toward Men of the Cloth. As her father was a clergyman, Austen would've been exposed to a number of self-righteous, hypocritical preachers and expressed her frustrations and amusement through her writing. Having grown up around that atmosphere, I know it's unavoidable and quite aggravating.

    I've never read her prayers, so thanks for sharing :)

  6. I follow on Twitter @asoftheday.