Jane Austen’s life was steeped in religion. As the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, she almost certainly believed in God, attended church regularly, and knew the Bible well. She wrote three overtly Christian prayers and was buried in an Anglican cathedral, under a stone bearing an epitaph that mentions her religious faith twice and her novel-writing not at all.
But little of the religious context of Austen’s life and times can be discerned in the pages of her books. Although her stories chronicle her characters’ moral development, she virtually never gives this growth an overtly spiritual dimension. Austen’s heroes and heroines do not seek divine help in adversity, pray for suffering friends, or turn to the Bible for comfort.
The heroine of Eucharista Ward’s The Watsons Revisited, the subject of today’s post in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series, does all of those things. Ward’s version of The Watsons springs from a religious sensibility that, if not stronger than Austen’s own, is at any rate more demonstrative in its expression.
Consequently, while Ward’s completion of Austen’s novel fragment isn’t great literature, it’s nevertheless an interesting prism through which to refract the question of Austen’s religious faith.