Jane Austen’s father, George Austen, was the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon and Deane. Though Mr. Austen came from a wealthy family of wool merchants, his branch eventually fell into poverty. He supplemented his family’s income by farming and taking in three or four boys at a time to teach.
By the accounts I’ve read, George Austen was an educated, hardworking man who enjoyed family discussions about politics and societal norms. He and his family debated amicably, and the atmosphere of his home was intellectually open and amusing.
Thinking of the clerics Jane wrote, I was struck by the negative portrayals of several of them. Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton leap to mind.
However, she wrote two clerics sympathetically: Edward Ferrars (Sense and Sensibility) and Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey).
I grew up in church, I went to a religious college, and my husband, brother-in-law, and a nephew are all ministers, so I have known many “men of the cloth” very well.
One of them is a wonderful example of an Edward Ferrars.
Mr. Ferrars made a poor decision as a boy, but he was an honorable man. He committed himself to Lucy Steele. Though he fell in love with Elinor as a man and did not love Lucy, he stood by his original commitment. He tried to tell Elinor, but his sister thwarted him.
Edward Ferrars did not chase material wealth or self-importance. He was the heir of a fortune and could have served in Parliament, but he wanted a small country parish where he could make sermons and raise chickens.
He was gentle, thoughtful, and kind. He did not resent Lucy Steele or his brother when Miss Steele transferred her affections to Robert. He was happy for them, though Robert was free to marry the woman he chose, and he received Edward’s inheritance.
Edward chose to be happy in less than wonderful circumstances. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Philippians 4:11. I’m sure everyone has problems, but the important thing is how a person deals with the problems.
No one is perfect, but when I look at my nephew, I see a happy man who loves his life. He’s an excellent husband and father. He works hard in his ministry. He earned his doctorate in theology. He’s intelligent, fun to be around, inquisitive, and forward thinking. He isn’t stuck on himself. He loves people. He’s quite handsome, too, which a man should be if he possibly can manage it.
I enjoy following him on social media, for he’s always upbeat, encouraging everyone around him. At family gatherings I try to make time to talk with him, because he uplifts me without even knowing it.
I taught my nephew when he was in the sixth grade. Now he’s teaching me.