Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Friday, February 10, 2012

Defending Jane Austen

Unknown Artist - American Art Artist - Marguerite Pearson - Women Writing A Letter 0s 30x36 Painting
Unknown artist- Woman Writing a Letter

Some people dismiss Jane Austen as a satirist who only made fun of her society.  Others reject her work as romance novels and complain that she gives a starry-eyed view of men, love, and marriage.  Jane Austen may also be disregarded because she doesn't specifically mention God moving and working in her characters.   At a superficial glance, these things are mostly true; but deeper reflection will find that within the pages of Jane Austen's books are many Godly lessons, illustrated by both positive and negative examples.  She weaves these lessons into the plot of her stories in such a believable manner that you come away  both encouraged and challenged.  This is in stark contrast with popular Christian fiction found in today's bookstores where God is talked about excessively but  the actions and dialogue of the characters reveal an un-Biblical worldview. 

In my personal favorite, Sense and Sensibility, the central concept  is the  response to unpleasant circumstance.  Elinor exemplifies  II Corinthians 10:5b, " ... and bringing into captivity every though to the obedience of Christ",  when she responds by keeping her emotions in check, her thoughts captive, and trusting in God when her circumstance seem to forecast complete unhappiness.  In doing this Elinor also spares her mother and sisters a lot of unnecessary anxiety on her behalf.  

While at first Marianne is the antithesis of her sister (Elinor struggles to overcome, Marianne wallows), the sanctification process is evident in her life. By the end of the story she not only sees the necessity of keeping her emotions in check but also succeeds at it.  Marianne comes to have a deeper appreciation and love for Elinor after watching her struggle to do what she knows is right.

In Mansfield Park, there is the idea of perseverance through trial.  Whether the trial is being pursed by a rake who no one else sees as a rake because he has money, being reminded over and over again of the kindness of your uncle in taking you in, or watching the man you love throw his affections away on a worthless woman, Fanny is loyal to principles no matter what and patient to a fault.  Even when her cousin, who she happens to be in love with, wants her to do something that goes against her conscience, she is adamant in her refusals.  Fanny is also amazing about giving people the benefit of the doubt even when they really don't deserve it. 

Not all of Jane Austen's stories are positive examples.  In Northanger Abby, she uses a young and naive Catherine Morland to expound on the foolishness of reading rubbish.  While Austen specifically points out how the reading of some  romantic novels has the potential to fill  young minds such as  Catherine's with ridiculous notions, like the idea that her future father-in-law murdered his wife, the principle is still there.  Catherine read absent mindedly.  She didn't exercise discernment.  She simply took it all in and her character was corrupted. In the end she had to endure a very embarrassing episode to teach her this lesson.

This doesn't mean that Marx, Darwin, or Hitler should never be read. It means that we shouldn't be saturated in it . Reading these authors is beneficial in order to understand the wrong and be able to combat it, but we should be engaged in whatever we read-discerning good and evil.

Jane Austen is one of the best female writers in the English language.  She had amazing insight into human strengths and weaknesses.  To me her stories present a challenge to become better or shine  a gentle light on my weakness so that it is easy to want to change.  Her characters walk beside the reader with an exalting example of how to glorify God through being patient, loyal, persevering through trials, having a proper response to unpleasant circumstances, the evils of reading trash,  treating people kindly no matter what, the list goes on and on.  It all depends on you and where you are at in your walk.   

So, do you like Jane Austen? Why or why not?  If you do, which one of her stories are your favorite and why?