Thursday, November 21, 2019

Spotlight: Prayer & Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional by Shannon Winslow

We welcome to The Calico Critic today author Shannon Winslow. Known for her Austenesque fiction, Shannon has now written a Christian devotional with messages inspired by Jane Austen and her beloved characters. For today's post, she has given us a devotional to enjoy that centers on the concepts of pride and vanity, which of course is easily tied into Pride and Prejudice, although Shannon chooses a character that might not first come to mind when thinking of pride or vanity! Enjoy the following devotional, which begins with prayerful words from Jane Austen herself, and I hope it blesses you today:


Pride and Vanity

Incline us to ask our Hearts these questions Oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves by Pride or Vanity.

Reading the words vanity and pride together, does your mind, like mine, go straight to a certain contentious conversation between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? But looking again, I discovered that Mary Bennet was the real expert on this subject:

“Pride,” observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously… Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 5)

In today’s petition, Jane Austen warns that the failings of pride and vanity are particularly dangerous. Why? Because these weaknesses have the power to deceive us, to prevent us from seeing ourselves and our behavior for what they truly are.

I’m sure when Mary Bennet passed along her wisdom on the subject of pride, she believed she did so with appropriate humility. After all, her deep knowledge of the problem must have caused her to be on guard against falling into that trap herself, right? On the contrary; Mary is among the deceived. Jane Austen’s gift for irony is on full display here. With the preamble that Mary piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, Austen subtly lets her readers know that the person cautioning us against the prevalence of pride is herself one of its many victims.

Nevertheless, what Mary says is true. The sin of pride is common. Human nature is especially prone to it. Few if any completely escape its effects. And people sometimes only imagine they are superior in some way. But I especially appreciate the reminder that a person can be guilty of sinful pride even when their superiority is real. Paranoia is only paranoia if there isn’t actually somebody out to get you, but pride is pride either way.

God gives many good gifts to his children (James 1:17), and there are people who truly have been blessed with exceptional beauty, personality, talent, wisdom, courage, faith, etc. Many of these and other gifts can be viewed as necessary tools to accomplish what God has assigned a person to do in this life. If he has ordained that someone is to preach effectively, relieve human suffering, advance scientific knowledge, entertain or inspire people, nurture children, or whatever, we shouldn’t wonder that he also equips them to do it!

We are to thank God, enjoy his blessings, and steward them well, using what gifts he has given us for his glory, not hiding them away or denying they exist. Still, there is a fine line between having confidence in God-given abilities and beginning to take credit for them ourselves.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God… Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert… He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat… You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth… (Deuteronomy 8:10-18)

When we fail at something, our natural tendency is to say, “It wasn’t my fault.” But when we are successful, we’re often quick to take the credit, even if it’s only on the inside. There’s a little voice that whispers in our ears that we deserve the praise and rewards. After all, we worked very hard to achieve them! Look at the years of education and practice we put in, not to mention at least metaphorical blood, sweat, and tears.

That voice is the enemy encouraging us to pride. For who made all those things possible? Who gave the natural ability to start with? Who gave the capable brain, the healthy body, the required personality traits? Who gave access to education or the favorable economy? Who gave the encouragement and fortitude to push forward?

Not one of us can conjure up these things out of thin air. Only God can do that. Only God can give life in the first place.

Let him who boasts boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:17-18)

Without God, we can do nothing. Without God, we would not even exist. Without God’s intervention, we would all be hopelessly lost, sinners condemned. Remembering this leaves no room for pride or vanity.

Let Us Pray

Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake, keep us from the twin sins of pride and vanity by making us ever mindful of our true condition. The enemy would deceive us, encouraging us to think better of ourselves than we ought. But to you alone belongs all the glory, now and forever. Amen.

Let Us Praise

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. (The Common Doxology, 1674, Thomas Ken of Winchester College)

My Thoughts

Of the three devotionals that Shannon sent me to review, this one was my favorite, as it helped solidify a lesson I was learning recently. A family member called me out in a moment of pride and vanity, and to be honest, in my mind I was a bit put off by their assertion, and spent time trying to justify myself internally. This devotional reminded me that I need not be bragging about anything really-- and if I do brag, it needs to be about something or someONE worthy, as is mentioned in 2 Corinthians.

I like Shannon's format for her devotionals. They focus on different writings of Austen, and regardless of whether or not you have read her classic works, the devotionals still work well. I appreciate her interest in grounding her lessons in scripture, and while each devotional does have a supplicant prayer, I'm glad it also ends in a moment of praise.  So often we come to God with our "Wish Lists" of things we need (and we should offer our requests to him), but I think it's also important that we praise him for who he is as well.  These devotionals offer a nice balance.  Well done, Mrs. Winslow!

About the Author

Shannon Winslow claims she was minding her own business when an ordinary trip to Costco a dozen years ago changed her life. That was the day a copy of the ’95 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice fairly leapt off the shelf and into her oversized shopping cart. She has been hopelessly hooked on all things Jane Austen ever since, her obsession ultimately inspiring her to begin writing her own stories a la Austen.

Winslow's 2011 debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, quickly become a best seller, praised for its authentic Austen style and faithfulness to the original characters. Seven more novels and a Jane Austen Devotional have since followed, with no end to her creative output in sight!

Her two sons now grown, Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mr. Rainier. Visit Shannon at her website/blog:  Shannon Winslow’s “Jane Austen Says…” and follow her on Facebook.

Other Links

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Blog Tour Excerpt: The Bride of Northanger

A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share - that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real...until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied - events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other...


“Diana Birchall once again proves herself the worthiest of Austenesque fiction writers, with keen powers of observation, discernment, judgment, fire, genius, and wit on every page.” — Devoney Looser, author of The Making of Jane Austen

“No one captures Jane Austen's vibrant style, sense of humor, intelligence, and voice better than Diana Birchall. I flew through this charming novel, which makes a delightfully spooky and most welcome sequel to Northanger Abbey.” — Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

“One of the most enjoyable returns to Austen to be found. Not to be missed.” — Susan Franzblau, author and film director

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour for The Bride of Northanger by Diana Birchall, a beloved author in the Austenesque fiction world. Although I haven't had a chance to read the book yet due to my studies, I'm thrilled to be able to offer an excerpt from the novel and participate in the tour. Below you'll find the excerpt, along with information about Diana, as well as links to the other blog tour stops. Thanks for stopping by The Calico Critic, and I hope you enjoy the passage Diana has shared with us!

Excerpt from The Bride of Northanger
Chapter 11, pages 93 - 96

With the first gleamings of crepuscular pink light starting to show in the long windows, she went to gaze out at the beautiful dawn scene, hoping to find some serenity. To her shock, she was immediately shaken to discern a face out in the garden, gazing back at her!

She almost shrieked, but clapped her hands over her mouth, and steadying herself, took another look.

It was a woman, none other than the same Grey Lady she had seen before. She was standing some twenty feet from the house, in the semi-darkness, and Catherine could not distinguish much about her, only that she was clothed in diaphanous grey, and was as pale as the moon, with skin that was white, but wrinkled. As she watched, the wraith lifted her arm to gesture, and mouthed a single word. What was it? It seemed to be “Oh!” or perhaps – “Go!”

Catherine could not tell, but she could look no more. She felt rather than saw the Grey Lady gliding away across the still-dark lawn, as she pulled the curtains closed.

As she did so, her hands felt something resting on the sill, a piece of cloth. She pulled it inside and saw that she was holding a small square piece of tapestry, or crewel-work, about eighteen inches square. The pattern, tightly stitched in delicate wools, was so intricate that it looked as if it might have taken years to work; and it was something like a sampler, with flowers and fruits on the outside edges, and a central pattern of an imposing house that looked very much - yes it did – like Northanger Abbey.

The sampler effect was owing to a series of words which, in motto-like fashion, circled the lozenge that enclosed the picture of the Abbey. The letters were tiny, interspersed with pairs of white birds that looked like doves, and at first Catherine was unpleasantly reminded of the small words in the message on General Tilney’s gift of wedding china. Would this prove to be another malediction?

Nervously, she tried to read the message, but the size made it hard to decipher. She had to hold her candle between herself and the tapestry, and pore over it to make it out. At length she succeeded, and on reading the first words, she gave a great start:

“O new Bride of Northanger!” it read.

She looked around apprehensively. That was certainly meant for no one but herself; there could be no doubt now that it was a message for her. Indeed, the Grey Lady must have left it. Shivering, she read on.

“Fear not, my dear daughter, for I lay only blessings upon you and your marriage. I wish you both an unbroken peaceful and fruitful life, this side of Heaven. As a mother who has suffered untold torments, I stand as the Guardian of Northanger Abbey against the wicked and the cruel, and hope that my love will enfold and protect you for ever, unto eternal life.”

“Well!” exclaimed Catherine. “What can this mean? Is it from the Grey Lady? She must be real enough, however, for this is no work of imagination. Not only is it tangible, it is as sturdy and well-stitched a piece of needlework as I have ever seen, upon my word. Only, that poor lady’s fingers! And her eyes! To embroider so many, many tiny letters! That, to me, would be the torture.”

She read the precisely stitched message again carefully.

“No, I do not know, I cannot conceive what on earth to make of it. I will ask Henry, when he comes.”

About the Author

Diana Birchall worked for many years at Warner Bros studios as a story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading manuscripts went side by side with a restorative and sanity-preserving life in Jane Austen studies and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and attempted investigation of the secrets of Jane Austen's style. She is the author of In Defense of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Elton in America, Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma, and the new The Bride of Northanger. She has written hundreds of Austenesque short stories and plays, as well as a biography of her novelist grandmother, and has lectured on her books and staged play readings at places as diverse as Hollywood, Brooklyn, Montreal, Chawton House Library, Alaska, and Yale.

Connect with Diana


October 28                My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)
October 28                Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)
October 28                vvb32 Reads (Spotlight)                           
October 29                A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide of Life (Guest Blog)
October 29                From Pemberley to Milton (Excerpt)
October 30                Drunk Austen (Interview)
October 30                Silver Petticoat Review (Excerpt)
October 31                Jane Austen’s World (Review)
November 01            So Little Time… (Interview)
November 01            Laura's Reviews (Review)
November 04            English Historical Fiction Authors (Guest Blog)
November 04            Confessions of a Book Addict (Spotlight)
November 05            More Agreeably Engaged (Review)
November 05            Vesper’s Place (Review)
November 06            Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)
November 06            Diary of an Eccentric (Interview)
November 07            All Things Austen (Spotlight)
November 07            A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
November 07            Let Them Read Books (Excerpt)  
November 08            Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
November 08            vvb32 Reads (Review)
November 11            My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
November 11            Reading the Past (Spotlight)
November 12            Jane Austen’s World (Interview)
November 12            The Calico Critic (Excerpt)
November 13            The Book Rat (Review)
November 13            Austenesque Reviews (Review)
November 14            Fangs, Wands, & Fairy Dust (Review)
November 14            The Fiction Addiction (Review)
November 15            My Love for Jane Austen (Spotlight)
November 15            Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books (Review)

Start Reading Your Copy Today!


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