Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP
This book is crafted with the hope that readers would take the opportunity to get lost in the world of Jane Austen—a place where we can all pause in solitude, as though we’ve just finished a stroll in the garden with Jane and are now sitting down with her to tea, reflecting on important life lessons and taking in the beauty of the countryside. Through excerpts from her work, short devotions, and Scripture, we hope this book will bring you moments of peace while you allow God’s word to shape your own character, (introduction).
Jane Austen, Virgin and Doctor of the Church? One might look forward to the Anglican Communion adding Blessed Jane to its calendar of saints with the publication of Steffany Woolsey’s A Jane Austen Devotional (a measure this Catholic would whole-heartedly support). When Laurel Ann first told me she was sending me this book, I was off-the-charts thrilled. The title alone was enough to evoke in me a childlike eagerness to hold the book in my hands and celebrate that such a thing existed. Why this near-absurd ebullience? Well, my particular area of Austen studies focuses on Jane Austen’s religious context and the religiosity of her novels, thus a book that purposefully examines her stories in a Christian light was sure to interest me. One that does so as a devotional—a book designed as an aid to the reader’s spiritual contemplation—promised to take things to a higher, more personal level.
With over one hundred meditation reflections, paired with favorite snippets from the novels we love so well, along with corresponding scripture passages, this devotional is sure to please Austen fans of faith. Subjects covered vary widely, but may be categorized by Austen’s common religious themes: the rewards of virtuous living, the ugliness of vicious behavior, and the duty owed to one’s family, neighbors, and society. Chapter titles give you further clues into themes: “Being Generous,” “Spiritual Bankruptcy,” “Respecting One Another,” “Flirting with Sin,” and so on. By combining scenes from Austen and scenes from Jewish and Christian scriptures, the author builds the foundation for the little morals she offers or reflection questions she poses at the end of each two-page chapter. In doing so, Woolsey helps readers to do what Austen always intended them to do: to use her characters—the good and the bad—to critically examine their own behavior. Are we more like Mary Crawford or Fanny Price? Mr. Wickham or Mr. Darcy?
One reflection I particularly liked was entitled “Following the Golden Rule.” This chapter held up the example of Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice for the reader’s consideration, reminding him or her of Jane’s propensity to see the good in everyone, and her avoidance of malicious speech. As Woolsey writes, “Jane lives out this truth [the Golden Rule given by Jesus] by employing a simple philosophy: if we want to be loved, we have to give love. Likewise, if we want meaningful relationships, we need to treat others with respect and esteem. Forgiveness, kindness, generosity—in all these areas, we must lead without expectation of reciprocity,” (21). The concluding reflection questions that then follow are deep, in their own way, helping the reader to really sit and delve into the true motivations for his or her behavior and interaction with others.
A Jane Austen Devotional is a spiritual tool, not merely a gimmicky Austen collectable. If used once a day (as devotionals usually are), this book can slowly help a spiritual seeker to develop or strengthen his or her practice of reflection and contemplation, using as a starting point Austen’s very practical Anglican Christianity. In this way, it’s not a book you sit down and read through in a weekend, but one you keep around all year long, on your nightstand with your Bible, at your desk at work, in your glove compartment, or in your purse.
I give this book 5 Stars, and highly recommend it.
A Grand Giveaway of A Jane Austen Devotional
The publisher Thomas Nelson, Inc. has generously offered a giveaway contest of three copies of A Jane Austen Devotional. To enter a chance to win one copy, leave a comment stating which quotes from Jane Austen you think are inspiring, or which of which of Jane Austen’s characters would greatly benefit from this devotional and why by 11:59pm PT, Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Winners to be announced on Thursday, January 19, 2012. Shipment to the US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
A Jane Austen Devotional, by Steffany Woolsey
Thomas Nelson, Inc. (2012)
Hardcover (224) pages
Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. He is in the writing and publishing graduate program at DePaul University. He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog
© 2007 – 2012 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose