Thankful for five

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‘Tis the ticornbookme of year we engage in exercises of our gratitudinal capacity. I though I would share five books that have shaped my conceptions of Mormon literature for the better. I encourage you to share your own beloved books in the comments.

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AML Book Club: August with Anderson Discussion

Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon lost its first round August Insanity match-up against Louisa Perkins’ Dispirited, but we’re not going to let that get in the way of a spirited discussion about two of his later work, Piney Ridge Cottage and The Story of Chester Lawrence. As I mentioned in my post last month, these novels are celebrating their 101st and 100th birthdays this year and deserve a special retrospective discussion on how they’ve weathered the last century. 

This discussion, as many of you know, has already begun with Christine Plouvier, Theric Jepson, and Sarah Reed debating the merits of Anderson’s apparent use of the deus ex machina device. I’d like this conversation to continue, of course, but I’d also like to hear what people think about other aspects of the novels.

Here are some possible discussion points:

  • Initial responses to the novels
  • Anderson’s representations of Mormon men and women. (I think it’s interesting, for example, that PRC focuses on a young Mormon woman and SCL focuses on a young Mormon man. How do these novels define Mormon gender roles a century ago? How do they affirm or overturn our assumptions about early-20th century Mormon attitudes about gender? How do they compare to how gender is depicted in Mormon novels or short stories or films today?)
  • The way Anderson contrasts the city and the country, America and Europe.
  • Anderson, sentimentality, and nostalgia.
  • Anderson’s biting satire of Salt Lake City Mormons in PRC. (Is it satire?)
  • The racy(?) backstories involving polygamy and illicit sex.
  • The fun, quasi-incestuous love stories of both novels. (Did anyone else get kind of creeped out by the love story in The Story of Chester Lawrence?)
  • The purpose of The Story of Chester Lawrence. (SCL is Anderson’s only sequel. Why did he need to write it? Does it adequately tie up the loose ends of PRC? Why focus on Chester?)
  • Glenn vs. Chester: How Mormon do you need to be to marry a Mormon heroine?
  • Chester Lawrence as a Modern Mormon Man of 1913.
  • Julia Elston as a Modern Mormon Woman of 1912.
  • The Story of Chester Lawrence as a response to the Titanic tragedy. (How do you respond to the ending of SCL? How does it compare/differ/improve upon Anderson’s handling of tragedy in Added Upon?)
  • The gospel messages of both novels: what are they?
  • The relevance of these novels today. (Should they be canonical the way Added Upon is canonical?)

Please don’t feel limited to these points of discussion–they simply reflect my experience with these novels. Feel free to share any thought you have.

AML Book Club: An August with Anderson

Recently, Jonathan Langford has been throwing around the idea of hosting an AML book club here at Dawning of a Brighter Day. Since I like the idea, I propose we inaugurate the club with a reading of two classic Mormon novels, Nephi Anderson’s Piney Ridge Cottage and The Story of Chester Lawrence, which are celebrating this year their 101st and 100th anniversaries respectively.

What better way to commemorate this Mormon Lit milestone than to revisit these classics?

In my opinion, Piney Ridge Cottage is one of the best examples of Mormon Home Literature fiction and one of Anderson’s triumphs. The Story of Chester Lawrence, its sequel, is also worth reading, especially for the way it ties up the loose ends of Piney Ridge Cottage and glimpses turn-of-the-century international Mormonism and missionary work.

As I understand Jonathan’s vision, participants will spend the month reading these novels and then discuss them here on the blog. My post at the end of the month with host the discussion with some observations and discussion questions.

The books are free and easily accessible via the Internet Archive (here and here). The Story of Chester Lawrence is also available for FREE DOWNLOAD on the Kindle.

What do you say? Are you up for an August with Anderson?

Nephi Anderson at the Annual SASS Conference

Next week, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies will be holding its annual conference in San Francisco. For this year’s conference, a few of us have put together a panel on Nephi Anderson that focuses on his Scandinavian roots and importance as one of the pioneers of Mormon fiction. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first academic conference panel to focus specifically on Anderson and his work.

The panel will be comprised of three Anderson enthusiasts: Sarah Reed, from the University of Wisconsin; Eric W. Jepson, from Peculiar Pages Press; and me. Our session will be held at the San Francisco Hilton/Financial District Hotel at 1:30 pm on Saturday May 4th. If you are in the area, we invite you to join us as we present our papers and share on thoughts.

I’ve included our panel and presentation proposals below. They should give you a general idea about what we will be discussing. For those of you who would like to attend, but are unable to do so, feel free to ask questions about Anderson or our proposals in the comments section.  We’d be happy to answer them for you.

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Five Nephi Anderson Novels You Should Read Before You Die

This week I plan to finish my dissertation chapter on Nephi Anderson’s novels. As the current draft climbs to around 65 pages, I realize that trying to encapsulate Anderson’s contribution to Mormon letters in one chapter is a fool’s errand. Easily Anderson’s work is worthy of a full-length work of criticism.

Anderson is still not widely read among Church members, although Added Upon still rings a bell among those in my parents’ generation (i.e. those fifty and older). This is unfortunate because I believe that his works ought to be part of every Mormon writer’s vocabulary. The more I read his works, the more impressed I am with his ambition, his depth of thought, and his skill as a writer.

Of course, Anderson was not a perfect writer. I get annoyed with his occasional attacks on Protestant “sectarians,” and I sometimes have a hard time telling his male protagonists apart, but I remind myself that he was writing during a very different era of Mormon history and from a very different mindset than I am accustomed to. I find that his novels work best when I read them charitably.

I don’t expect many of you to read Anderson as enthusiastically as I have, but I thought it might be helpful to recommend a few starter texts for those of you are interested in jumping on the Anderson bandwagon. Below I’ve listed the five Nephi Anderson novels you should read before you die. Beneath each novel is a brief justification for why I include the novel on the list.  After each item, I’ve also selected an “alternate” choice from the five remaining Anderson novels that didn’t make the cut.

1. Piney Ridge Cottage (1912)

Piney Ridge Cottage was the first novel Anderson published in book form after his 1904-1906 mission to England. It is also one of three Anderson novels set solely in Utah, making it one of his most explicitly regional novels. At heart a love story, Piney Ridge Cottage offers glimpses into turn-of-the century Mormon life, immigrant culture, and the effects of industrialization on the rural Utah countryside. It’s also introduces readers to one of Anderson’s most memorable characters, Chester Lawrence, who returns in an aptly-titled sequel (and Titanic precursor) The Story of Chester Lawrence.

Alternate: The Story of Chester Lawrence (1913)

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Mormon Literature and the Anxiety of “Passing”

In literature, a character’s ability to move unnoticed from one social group to another, often more privileged group is called “passing.” In Disney’s Mulan, for example, the title character “passes” for a man so that she can take her aging father’s place in the male-only military. In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jean Valjean, a criminal, “passes” for a respectable member of mid-nineteenth-century French society. In The Great Gatsby, poor Midwesterner Jay Gatsby makes dirty money and “passes” as the lone inheritor of a San Francisco family’s fortune.

You get the idea.

“Passing” is a common theme especially in literature about the African-American experience. In works from Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative to Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! to Edward P. Jones’ The Known World, light-skinned characters of mixed racial heritage are able to pass imperceptibly into the white majority and thus avoid discrimination and prejudice. Anxiety usually accompanies these instances of “passing,” however. Characters either live in fear of being exposed or in shame for turning their backs on their people.

Mormon literature also contains instances of “passing.” Perhaps the most famous are the Cullens, Stephenie Meyer’s vampire family, who “pass” as regular people in order to avoid misunderstandings with their neighbors. Although they are not Mormons, their guarded desire to be in the world, but not of it seems to parallel a similar tendency among contemporary Mormons who try to fit in and fly beneath the cultural radar—despite a deep-rooted sense of difference and group peculiarity.

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Novelist Nephi; or Why We Still Need the “Author of ‘Added Upon'”

In less than a week I will be traveling to Salt Lake City to spend a week in the Church History Library with the Nephi Anderson papers. To prepare, I have been reading Anderson’s novels and short stories and making a list of research questions to guide my thoughts. I have three novels left to read—John St. John (1917), Romance of a Missionary (1919), and The Boys of Springtown (1920)—and I hope to have them finished by the time I step off the plane at Salt Lake International.

Anderson is best known for his first novel Added Upon (1898), but my interest in him and his work began a little more than a year ago after I read his last novel, Dorian (1921), and wrote an essay on it for one of Theric’s Peculiar Pages projects. For those who haven’t read Dorian, it is a fantastic novel about a young Latter-day Saint’s spiritual coming-of-age in the early twentieth century. It’s an underappreciated work of Mormon literature and arguably Anderson’s most thematically complex and thought-provoking work. Through it, Anderson not only advocates for the harmonizing of spiritual and scientific learning, but also offers a subtle critique of Mormon culture and theology. In my opinion, it should be on every MoLit enthusiast’s reading list.

So should Anderson’s other novels—including Added Upon, which I think is equally undervalued today. True, they are not likely to pass the Gold Standard for realistic fiction so recently debated on this blog, but they have a certain charm that makes it obvious why they won over fiction-wary Mormon audiences in the early twentieth century. Readers familiar with the conventions of popular nineteenth-century fiction will instantly recognize where Anderson drew from for his aesthetic. They are full of unlikely coincidences, highly-wrought emotion, deathbeds, and plenty of love-triangles and melodrama: just the sort of thing young Mormons wanted to read at the time.

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