Leithart on Austen’s Anglicanism

Peter Leithart reviews Laura Mooneyham White’s Jane Austen’s Anglicanism here. Leithart says:

To today’s readers, Austen’s characters rarely pray or engage in overt religious activities, but that is partly an illusion. Because of her thorough knowledge of eighteenth-century Anglicanism, White is attuned to the religious overtones of Austen’s language. From the time of William Law’s Serious Call to the Devout Life (1729), the word “serious” had religious connotations. When she records that Emma Woodhouse is “very serious in her thankfulness” for Harriet Smith’s engagement to Robert Martin, Austen is telling us that Emma offered prayers of thanks. Similarly, apparently general words like “exertion,” “principle,” and “duty” are all religious terms in Austen’s world. Plus, more obvious religious ideas like sin, evil, atonement, fall, temptation, repentance, and contrition are present throughout her work. Even Austen’s restrained unmetaphorical style reflects the theologically-grounded neo-classicism of her time. Add to this the pervasive evidence that Austen shared common Anglican convictions about nature and the “chain of being,” it becomes clear that her novels are “imprinted” everywhere with her religious values.

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