30-Day Journey With Jane Austen
By Natasha Duquette (Fortress Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Brenda S. Cox
“Till this moment, I never knew myself.”–Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, quoted in 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen.
In these days of stress and anxiety, do you long for a few minutes of peaceful reflection each day? Take a 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen. Jane is an excellent travel companion!
Natasha Duquette has chosen thirty profound passages from Jane Austen. Most are from Austen’s novels, though the last three are from her prayers.
Each daily passage is followed by an explanation, putting the passage in context and sometimes including connections to Austen’s life. Then a Reflection section connects the passage to our lives, giving us thoughts to chew on for that day. Duquette does not give us Bible passages for these reflections, but they are based on biblical ideas.
The brief reflections in this book encouraged and inspired me each morning.
Here are a few highlights that I appreciated:
Some reflections focus on our own hearts. On Day Two, Elinor reflects on how “extravagance and vanity” have made Willoughby “cold-hearted and selfish” (Sense and Sensibility). Duquette points out that the Austen family had to live economically, unlike some of Austen’s characters.
Natasha Duquette tells us that Elinor “realizes unthinking habits of luxury have led Willoughby to waste the valuable gifts placed in his hands. . . . Wasteful choices can interfere with true joy in our lives.”
The section concludes, “Focus on practices that build positive attachments to God, to human beings, and to other gifts in your life, rather than to material possessions. Think about how you might steward your resources wisely, hold them lightly, and express gratitude for them joyfully.”
A good reminder to live each day with thankfulness for what we have. We can experience joy today, not hope for joy from what we might get in the future!
The Dashwoods teach us about peace as well as joy. On Day Three, volatile Marianne Dashwood “resolves to form habits that can lead to health and peace.” She intends to enjoy nature, reading, music, and her sister’s companionship. Could you find health and peace today in any of those ways?
Some lessons are concrete. On Day Seven, Elizabeth Bennet reflects on Darcy’s letter as she walks for two hours. Duquette points out, “The classical philosopher Aristotle believed reason was sharpened by walking. Austen agreed.”
The Reflection section adds, “Such walking grounds us in reality. Often an answer to a problem will crystallize not as we are sitting statically before a computer screen but as we are physically moving somehow.” Duquette encourages us to “Reconsider a problem or challenging situation in your life as you exercise.”
Even in days of isolation, we need ways to exercise our bodies and give ourselves time to think. I walk up and down the hall of my small apartment for thirty minutes each day, thinking and praying. Others of you may have the opportunity to walk outside, as Elizabeth Bennet did, enjoying the outdoors as you consider whatever comes to mind.
Encouragement for Relationships
Day 10 is about our relationships. In Mansfield Park, Edmund finds his little cousin Fanny crying. He asks persistent questions and listens well, to console her. He then takes her outside, where she can be comforted by the beauties of nature. Jane Austen was away from home at a young age, and would have known how Fanny felt.
Duquette explains, “Edmund’s care for Fanny is pastoral, foreshadowing his eventual call into life as an Anglican priest.” She encourages us to notice people who are sad, and “then make time and space to listen to their story in a peaceful environment. You may be surprised at the effectiveness of such gentle attention.”
On Day 15, we think a bit about our mortality. Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park faced death, and because of that he became a better person. Duquette says, “Anglicans in Austen’s day would pray for a good death as part of their liturgy on a Sunday morning.” She encourages us to think about death, not fearfully, but to put our lives in perspective. We might consider, as Tom did, whether we are living for others as well as for ourselves.
The last three days, based on Austen’s prayers, focus more on our relationship with God. Day 30 encourages us to examine our own hearts, and look for ways to “reflect the infinite love of God to a hurting world deeply in need of mercy and grace.” Amen.
The 30-Day Journey Series: “Our Greatest Spiritual Thinkers”
30-Day Journey with Jane Austen is the newest addition to the 30-Day Journey series by Fortress Press. The publisher says:
“Enrich each day with wisdom from our greatest spiritual thinkers. Through brief daily readings and reflections, the 30-Day Journey series invites readers to be inspired and transformed. By devoting a moment to meaningful reflection and spiritual growth, readers will find deeper understanding of themselves and the world, one day at a time.”
I’m delighted, though a little surprised, to see Jane Austen join our “greatest spiritual thinkers”! The others in the series are Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day (Catholic social activist), Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and Emily Dickinson. Quite a varied lineup of thinkers!
I recommend 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen as a beautiful way to begin each day. It will help you to reflect more deeply on important truths and how they might affect your life.
What passage in Jane Austen do you find the most spiritually deep or inspiring? I’d love to hear from you!
This post first appeared on Jane Austen’s World.
Reviews of Other Devotionals
This is the fifth devotional that I’ve reviewed, and each one adds new perspectives and different ways to go deeper. I recommend them all! These are the earlier reviews:
Natasha Duquette, Bio and Publications
For those who would like to know more about the author of 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen:
Dr. Natasha Duquette, Academic Dean and Professor of Literature, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, B.A., University of Alberta, M.A., University of Toronto, Ph.D., Queen’s University
Dr. Natasha Duquette is author of 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen (Fortress Press, 2020) and is currently serving as editor-in-chief for The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Romantic-Era Women’s Writing (Palgrave MacMillan), which is a collaborative project involving writers based in universities around the globe. She is also author of Veiled Intent(Pickwick, 2016), co-editor of Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, and Harmony (Lehigh University Press, 2013), and editor of Sublimer Aspects: Interfaces between Literature, Aesthetics, and Theology (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). For the Chawton House Library series, she produced the first annotated, scholarly edition of Helen Maria Williams’s Julia, a novel interspersed with poetical pieces (Routledge, 2009). Her articles have appeared in the journals Persuasions, English Studies in Canada, Christianity and Literature, Notes and Queries, Mosaic, and Women’s Writing. She has contributed essays to multiple collections, including Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, the Sacred, and the Sublime in Literature and Theory (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2010) and Art and Artifact in Austen (University of Virginia Press, 2020). Her research has been supported by fellowships from SSHRC, Chawton House, and Gladstone’s Library. Dr. Duquette enjoys teaching courses on eighteenth-century satire, aesthetics, Jane Austen, African literature, and Indigenous writers of North America. Before coming to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, she taught full-time at the Royal Military College of Canada, Biola University in Southern California, and Tyndale University in Toronto, where she also served as Associate Dean of undergraduate studies for four years.
30-Day Journey with Jane Austen. Fortress Press, 2020.
“‘A Very Pretty Amber Cross’: Material Sources of Elegance in Mansfield Park.” Art and Artifact in Austen, edited by Anna Battigelli, University of Virginia Press, 2020, pp. 146–64.
“Dissenting Cosmopolitanism and Helen Maria Williams’s Prison Verse.” Women’s Writing: Cosmopolitan Endeavours Special Issue, edited by Enit Steiner, vol. 27, no. 1, 2020, pp. 80–96.
“Eleanor Tilney as Cultural Historian.” Persuasions, vol. 41, no. 1, 2019, pp. 105–18.
Veiled Intent: Dissenting Women’s Aesthetic Approach to Biblical Interpretation. Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Pickwick Publications, 2016.
Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, and Harmony, edited by Natasha Duquette and Elisabeth Lenckos. Lehigh University Press, 2013. Reissued in Paperback, 2015.
“The ‘New-formed Leaves’ of Juvenilia Press.” English Studies in Canada, vol. 37, no. 3, 2012, pp. 201–18.
“Horrific Suffering, Sacred Terror, and Sublime Freedom in Helen Maria Williams’s Peru.” Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, the Sacred, and the Sublime in Literature and Theory, edited by Holly Faith Nelson, Lynn Szabo, and Jens Zimmermann. Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2010, pp. 113–27.
“‘Motionless Wonder’: Contemplating the Gothic Sublime in Northanger Abbey.” Persuasions On-line, vol. 30, no. 2, 2010.
“‘Sublime Repose’: The Spiritual Aesthetics of Landscape in Austen.” Jane Austen Sings the Blues, edited by Nora Stovel. University of Alberta Press, 2009, pp. 91–100.
Julia, a novel interspersed with poetical pieces by Helen Maria Williams, edited by Natasha Duquette, Routledge, 2009.
Sublimer Aspects: Interfaces between Literature, Aesthetics, and Theology, edited by Natasha Duquette. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.
grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
“How despicably I have acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself!”