Nov 112010

A Terrific First-Time Biography of Jane Austen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon Vine

The Christian Encounters Series is a collection of biographies that focus on the religious aspects in the lives of historical figures. Some of these important individuals are known and for their religious beliefs and acts, while others are not. The one trait all these historical figures have in common is that they were all Christians. These biographies are packaged in a petite yet pleasing volume, around two hundred pages in length, and are complete with appendixes and endnotes. Published by Thomas Nelson, this series includes biographies on Winston Churchill, Johann Sebastian Bach, Saint Francis, Saint Nicholas, Isaac Newton, Galileo and many others.

While she is known for being a clergyman’s daughter, or as Dr. Leithart aptly identifies her, a PK (a Preacher’s Kid), Jane Austen is best known for is her satirical wit, her keen observations of human nature, and biting social commentary. Sometimes referred to as being “waspish” and possessing a “sharp tongue,” Jane Austen doesn’t always present the picture of a devout and pious Christian. However, Jane Austen was a faithful Christian who read sermons and wrote prayers. In addition, many characteristics of the Christian faith can found in her writing. In this biography, Dr. Leithart reveals the characteristics of Christianity that are most visible and predominant in Jane Austen and her writing.

“Manners and morals do not exist in separate realms of life. Manners are a moral concern, and morals take specific shape in the gestures of manners.” – page 68

Manners and morals are two very important elements in Jane Austen’s novels. In her novels, Jane Austen gently reprimands those who are too fanciful and flighty, ridicules those who are vain and haughty, and punishes those who are dishonest and dishonorable. Characters that are considered “good” are intelligent, modest, and enjoy past-times such as reading and music. Characters that are offending or antagonistic are often portrayed as ostentatious, imbecilic, or insincere. Instead of sermonizing and moralizing, Jane Austen illustrates proper conduct and principles to her readers. Her novels teach us valuable lessons about life, love, family, and friends.

“The Austen’s Christianity was not the excitable Christianity of Bunyan or John Newton, but a cooler, more rational and more ethically focused Christianity, which expressed itself chiefly in acts of charity. First Corinthians 13 was the touchstone of the family’s faith.” – page 25

The Austen family displayed their Christianity through acts of love, kindness, and charity. The Austen women frequently made garments for those in need and visited those who were ailing. While she may not be considered the most charitable and giving person, Jane Austen did her share to provide for those less fortunate than herself. In her novel, Emma, she illustrates the importance of kindness and charity towards one’s neighbors. Moreover, when the title character of that novel realizes that she has been “unfeeling,” “remiss,” and “scornful” towards her neighbor, she immediately resolves to rectify her behavior and seek forgiveness. This is a prime example of how Jane Austen demonstrates proper conduct and gently guides her readers.

This was an enlightening and well-researched biography! What I loved most about Jane Austen: Christian Encounters was that it wasn’t just a scholarly study on Jane Austen and her Christian faith, but that it was an informative and detailed biography of her life. Dr. Leithart presents a very knowledgeable and concise account of all the major events and people of Jane Austen’s life. Beginning with Jane Austen’s birth and ending with her recent popularity this work presents a thorough and genuine depiction of Jane Austen. My only complaint is with the appendixes, which I didn’t find very helpful. I think listing Jane Austen’s acquaintances in categories or by relationships rather than in alphabetical order would have been more useful. Moreover, a family tree or chart would have been a nice addition, as well.

To put it simply, I took great pleasure in this interesting and captivating biography of Jane Austen and I heartily recommend it to all Austen fans! Jane Austen: Christian Encounters by Peter Leithart is a terrific first-time biography for those who want to learn more about Jane Austen’s life yet a little hesitant about reading a large and lengthy work.

** If you are interested, Dr. Leithart has published a second book on Jane Austen titled, Minatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen.  With a first chapter called “Real Men Read Austen,” this book is definitey on my wishlist!


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  3 Responses to “Jane Austen: Christian Encounters – Peter Leithart”


    This sounds like one to add to my wishlist. Thanks!


    Interesting. This sounds like one my mother will love. ^^


    Laurel Ann shares your agony about the appendix! Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a copy of this book yet..

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