It is the 16th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.

In today's show, we remember one of the most beloved novelists in the English language, Jane Austen, born on this day in 1775.

Jane was born into a clerical family. Her father, George Austen, was a rector in the Church of England at Steventon, and her mother, Cassandra, was the daughter of Reverend Thomas Leigh.

Family memoirs paint an idyllic, harmonious picture of a childhood filled with avid church attendance, daily prayers, and evenings of reading aloud together and putting on plays.

Jane's position as a rector's daughter gave her access to a variety of reading materials and a good education, which began near Oxford under a tutor and then at a boarding school, conveniently located near a lending library.

Yet, as much reading as Jane enjoyed in her developmental years, it was her family and life at home that shaped her stories.

Though she never married herself, the marriages among her six brothers and extended family inspired the novels we’ve come to love.

Austen's focus on virtuous courtships and domestic happiness have tempted some to place her in the Victorian era of the prim and proper. Still, she more appropriately belongs to the Georgian period with her clever use of satire.

Her choice of the novel as a vehicle for her satire came at something of a turning point in English literature.

The Enlightenment era of satire gradually gave way to the more gothic tales of authors like the Brontes. In the late eighteenth century, the novel had become the subject of scorn for the upper classes.

Bawdy romances and radical stories of the Jacobin persuasion were considered poor reading material, even outright dangerous as England navigated its internal squabbles and external conflicts with Spain and revolutionary France.

While containing romance and even the occasional political critique, Austen's novels follow the lives of real people trying to form relationships and find their way in the world.

The embarrassing excesses of characters like Lydia Bennet and the deficiencies of prudence in characters like Marianne Dashwood serve as challenges to the reader's moral sense, which may cause one to examine our vices and virtues.

Unlike her evangelical contemporaries, like Hannah More, Austen was not as forward in her religious expressions.

Her novels' lack of overt religiosity has caused some scholars to assume that Miss Austen herself was not very religious. This critique neglects those religious convictions of upper-middle-class, moderate Anglicans were more often assumed than stated.

In a review of her works, theologian Richard Whately wrote that “Miss Austen has the merit (in our judgment most essential) of being a Christian writer: a merit which is much enhanced, both on the score of good taste, and of practical utility, by her religion being not at all obtrusive.”

Indeed, the religious nature of her works is subtle, but her depth of conviction does not suffer for it. She pointedly critiques wayward clergymen in her novels, particularly through Mr. Collins, with his desire for status granted through the esteemed Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Mr. Elton of Emma. The latter cares more for money than the ministry.

Mansfield Park is perhaps Austen's most explicitly religious novel, written later in life. In this story, one can see Austen's warming posture toward the Evangelicalism of the early nineteenth century – a movement of which she had initially been skeptical.

Jane's later years were spent revising her novels published in multiple editions in her lifetime and subsequent decades.

She fell ill in late 1816 and could not write much of the winter. In early 1817 she was forced to set aside the novel she had been working on, published posthumously under the title, Sandition after succumbing to her illness on July 24, 1817.

Jane’s moral satires, which were rooted in her Anglican faith, have reached new audiences on the page and the screen, and so we take today to say, “Happy Birthday, Jane Austen,” born on this day in 1775.

The last word for today comes from none other than Jane Austen herself in a prayercomposed in her later years.

“Above all other blessings Oh! God, for ourselves, and our fellow-creatures, we implore thee to quicken our sense of thy mercy in the redemption of the world, of the value of that holy religion in which we have been brought up, that we may not, by our neglect, throw away the salvation thou hast given us, nor be Christians only in name.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

This show was produced by Christopher Gillespie.

This show was written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz, filling in for a man who, like Mr. Collins, always loves excellent boiled potatoes, that’s Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.