Christian Jane Austen Variations 2: Jeanna Ellsworth, Kelsey Bryant, Janine Mendenhall

“The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination” — Sense and Sensibility

I love Jane Austen variations based on Christian principles, as Austen based her own books on Christian principles! Last week I reviewed two such series of novels, and today I want to share my thoughts in book reviews of some individual titles:  Jeanna Ellsworth’s To Refine Like Silver, Kelsey Bryant’s Suit and Suitability, and a Christian Georgian-era novel, Janine Mendenhall’s Starving Hearts. Again, all are well-written and incorporate faith naturally.

To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth

Refine Like Silver cover

Both Georgiana and Elizabeth, in this variation, have experienced deep pain and resulting depression. Elizabeth helps Georgiana find healing and forgiveness.  Elizabeth’s book of spiritual insights gained during her struggles helps both Georgiana and Darcy in their spiritual journeys. She challenges Darcy with the verse Malachi 3:3, “he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver . . . ” As Darcy learns what this verse means, he learns what true “refinement” is, and finds that God refines us through suffering and trouble.  The picture of the blacksmith refining silver until he can see his face reflected in it is a powerful metaphor for our lives.

I appreciate the author’s picture of depression, its consequences, and how to help someone talk through their pain and begin healing.  The characters are solid and deep.  The plot is arranged differently from Pride and Prejudice, beginning in Derbyshire and then moving to Longbourn and Netherfield, which keeps the story interesting. Like the other books here, the book is clean, but be aware that there are a few guarded, non-explicit references to rape.

From To Refine Like Silver

The aphorisms and stories used in the book are gathered in the “Thought Notebook” at the end.  A sampling:

One must experience darkness to appreciate the light.

Our trials do not define us, rather they refine us.

What if we woke up tomorrow morning and had only what we took the time to thank God for?

F.R.O.G.: Fully Rely on God!

The book shows the need for forgiving our enemies, and the powerful redemptive results that can have. However, forgiveness is partly supported by the idea that “people are inherently good,” which many Christians will not agree with. While all people are created by God and in his image, personally I find it more helpful to recognize that we are all sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness, which enables us to forgive others.  While I don’t agree with every point in the book, it is a good story, and rich in encouragement for our lives.

Suit and Suitability by Kelsey Bryant

Suit and Suitability Cover

What a perfect title for a Sense and Sensibility variation with lawyers and suitors! Set in Depression-era Ohio and New York, the book appears to be carefully researched. “Ellen,” the serious sister, is a law clerk. “Marion” is an aspiring actress, no doubt a role that Marianne Dashwood would have loved. Marion learns to trust God through trials, rejection, and injury, while Ellen grows through her own trials. They find God’s goodness in the midst of injustice and pain. Characters pray and discuss spiritual issues when appropriate.

I appreciate Kelsey Bryant’s new and surprising twists in the Sense and Sensibility basic plot, and her characters’ unique personalities. Both Marion and her failed suitor experience repentance, as in the original book. And I like the symbolism of the window far up the wall—Marion is always looking for a view from up higher, but can never quite reach it . . .

From Suit and Suitability

Ellen to Marion’s inconstant suitor: “Love is more than a whim one feels for another; it’s bound up in actions and faithfulness. However you feel about your wife, you’re married to her for good, and you ought to respect her, especially to other people like me. You might as well make the best of whom you are married to. She deserves that much. If you want to do anything to atone for what you did, respect women more—starting with your wife” (p. 332, Kindle Edition).

What a great message to us, in today’s age of easy divorce! In Austen’s England, marriage was considered permanent, an unbreakable covenant before God. If you are married, how can you better respect your spouse today, and “make the best of whom you are married to”?

One more recommendation that is not an Austen variation but a Christian book set in the same time period:

Starving Hearts by Janine Mendenhall

Starving Hearts cover

The hero and heroine of Starving Hearts are united in their opposition to the slave trade, and their support of Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish it, though they find it touches their lives in unsuspected ways.  Each struggles to know and trust God (and each other) in the midst of losses and struggles, including an attempted rape, abduction, torture, and much more. A riveting story, with as much suspense as romance (but not “light reading”). Though it’s the first of a planned series, it stands alone quite well.

I appreciate the glimpses into the slave trade and its implications for Georgian society.  We also see into the villain’s heart, with his past pain and conflicting desires, guilt, and shame that shape his life and actions.  The book provides a vivid picture of God using bad things in our lives to help us grow.

From Starving Hearts

A young lady writes to a young gentleman: “Dear friend, no matter how much you long for that true empathy of souls one finds in a marriage blessed of God, you must not settle for someone who merely allows you to be comfortable. He did not design you for such an ordinary existence. You must find a wife whose passion for life ignites your own fervent soul.”  A sentiment that Mr. Darcy, no doubt, would wholly agree with!

All these books are entertaining, excellent, and highly recommended. Enjoy!

I find that novels incorporating faith can often be more encouraging and inspiring to me than nonfiction books. “Story” carries its own truth, and much of the Bible is written in stories. Do you like novels which openly include faith in the story? Do they touch your heart?

Please share here other Christian Austen variations that you have read and enjoyed; I’d love to read them and review them! I’d also love to hear about Austen variations or Regency novels that incorporate some of the science of Austen’s day.

More Reviews of Austen Variations

Christian Jane Austen Variations 1: Maria Grace, Robin Helml

Christian Jane Austen Variations 3: Pamela Aidan

Christian Jane Austen Variations 4: Laura Hile

Austen Variations with Science 1: Collins Hemingway, Robin Helm, Georgette Heyer

Austen Variations with Science 2: Abigail Reynolds

Science Variations 3: Novels with Regency and Victorian Science (Linda Banche, Cindy Anstey, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Nicole Clarkston)

(Note: I do not receive any profit from recommending these books; just the joy of sharing them with you! All are easily found on amazon; I read all of them on Kindle except for To Refine Like Silver, which I bought from the author at an Austen event in England.)

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4 thoughts on “Christian Jane Austen Variations 2: Jeanna Ellsworth, Kelsey Bryant, Janine Mendenhall

  1. Hello Brenda,
    Thank you so much for your review! I’m glad that you enjoyed Suit and Suitability and blessed me with this review. It’s always a treat to find another Christian Jane Austen fan. 🙂

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  2. I’m glad to have discovered this blog and the recommendations of JAFF with a Christian theme. If I remember correctly, Jan Hahn’s An Arranged Marriage also has a Christian theme (I distinctly remember Elizabeth relying on the advice from the Bible in solving a conflict with Darcy). Also, although I haven’t read this one (only some chapters of a draft version posted online), Ginger Monette’s Tree of LIfe (A Col. Fitzwilliam/Charlotte romance) is also Christian themed. Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston is, although not very overtly, but distinctly Christian (and one of my all time favourite JAFF books so I can only recommend it on all counts!)

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