by Kara Gibbs '96
From the River Thames in Oxford, through the low flatlands and steep slopes of Hampshire, to the limestone hills of Bath, the English countryside still resembles that of the 19th century — the England of Jane Austen. Just ask Lori Smith ’93, who followed Austen’s literary steps and personal voyages across this very region.
“I wanted to see the village Jane Austen grew up in,” she said, “the church where her father was rector, the seashore at Lyme, the houses she may have based Pemberley on, and the lovely town of Bath where she stopped writing for several years.” Out of her journeys through England, Lori’s book A Walk with Jane Austen grew. “My travels gave me a good vantage point for telling pieces of Jane’s life story along with bits of my own,” Lori said. “It was a wonderful trip.” The book chronicles Lori’s experiences during the month she traveled around England.
Her affection for Jane Austen began in college when she picked up a used copy of Pride and Prejudice at a bookstore. Soon, she was working her way through all six of Austen’s novels. “I read the books and watched the movies many times; I knew them so well,” Lori said. “When I felt like I had nothing left to read, I started reading biographies and Austen’s letters.” Lori added that she felt connected to the author — as a Christian, as a single woman, and as an artist.
Like most writers will tell you, Lori’s love for writing started when she was a child. While she didn’t study it specifically at Cedarville, she always had the dream of writing books. She felt inadequate though. “I didn’t think I had anything to write about,” said the international studies major. “Yet, Madeleine L’Engle talks about how you know you’re a writer if you have to write. It’s part of who you are and how you process the world, whether you publish or not. I gradually learned that was me — writing was a necessity, not an option.”
Prior to publishing A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori released another book, The Single Truth. Based on her singleness, the book developed as she sought God’s direction for her life. “I always expected to get married and have a family. That was my dream,” she said. “When I hit my late twenties and that hadn’t happened, I struggled to process it, to figure out what God was doing, and to discover what the Bible really had to say about living a single life well. I think in the past there’s been a lot of pressure within the Christian culture to get married, but that’s changing.”
Lori is currently working on a book with several other writers for recording artist Rebecca St. James. It will tell stories of “prodigal daughters” — young women who have walked away from their faith and returned to discover the deep love of God.
Reflecting on her Cedarville days, Lori added, “Taking a broad liberal arts degree and studying history, literature, languages, anthropology, and Bible gave me the foundation to do the work I’m doing. Many professors took the time to get to know and invest in me personally, and I think the thoughtful discussions in honors seminars helped to shape my perspective and approach to the world.”
Not too surprisingly, Lori is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. As a freelancer, she has seen her writing appear in Washington Post Book World, Publishers Weekly, Washingtonian Magazine, BreakPoint Online, Discipleship Journal, and Today’s Christian Woman. Lori and her black lab, Bess, live outside of Washington D.C., where she enjoys spending time with her family and four young nieces. Every May, she gets together at the beach with her best friends from Cedarville and their families. She takes ballet lessons, drinks tea, and runs the Jane Austen Quote of the Day blog. Her next life goal is to return to England.