Needing an Editor: a Review of Alfred Osmond’s Married Sweethearts

8.29.14 | | 2 comments

Alfred OsmondI think someone should read this old stuff and find out if it is any good.

There is a kind of “lost” Mormon literature, hundreds of works published before the 1970s that today even most of us who study our literature have never heard of, let alone read. Married Sweethearts (1928) clearly falls in this category. I’d heard of Osmond’s epic poem The Exiles (1926) and knew that he was a professor of English at BYU when I came across a note by Sam Taylor that mentioned Osmond’s novel (which I excerpted here). In that excerpt, Taylor had a poor opinion of Osmond’s work:

Professor Osmond had scant admiration for my literary output, nor did I for his. His criticism was always the same: “Come to the point at once.” Atmosphere, characterization, dramatic progression, suspense, the narrative hook, the plants, the turnover at the climax—all this meant nothing to him. Of course I was writing for the national market, which he didn’t understand, and he for the captive internal press, where the vital element was the faith-promoting factor.

He tried, however, to break into the big time. He wrote a novel, Married Sweethearts, and had it published by a local printer. “I know it would make a great movie,” he said, “but I can’t get anybody in Hollywood to read it.” I admit that I tried to, and then I agreed with a student friend who said, “Nor anybody in Provo.”

Since I have finished reading Osmond’s novel, unlike Taylor, I can confidently say that the latter’s characterization isn’t correct in most respects—at least not regarding Married Sweethearts. It isn’t written for the “captive internal press” nor is the “faith-promoting factor” the vital element. In fact, Osmond’s characters are not Mormon (the only arguably Mormon character in the book is Butch Cassidy), some smoke and drink, and Osmond’s portrayal of marriage is informal, at times.

Nor does Taylor’s claim that “atmosphere, characterization, dramatic progression, suspense, the narrative hook, the plants, the turnover at the climax” meant nothing to Osmond seem quite fair. Those elements clearly exist in the novel, just not with the skill and deftness that you might expect from one of Taylor’s works. Its not a page turner, but Married Sweethearts, had it been edited well, would likely be no worse than the average western novel today.

And Married Sweethearts is exactly that. It begins with the kidnapping of Nell Foster, the daughter of the town banker, and the Graniteville mail carrier, Badger Wolf. The pair are spirited away to Eagle’s Roost, a mountainous hideout used by outlaws and mining prospectors, and kept there for months while Nell’s father and the town search for the pair and wait for a ransom demand that never comes. And some in the town, including Badger Wolf’s wife, Samantha, are not even convinced that the pair were kidnapped, but instead ran off together.

Nell’s best friend, Lily Williams, eventually tires of waiting and decides to make her own search expedition, heading to Robber’s Roost, the hideout of Butch Cassidy, husband of Lily’s childhood friend, Bliss. Accompanied by farm hand Sunny Brown, Lily passes through many difficulties to reach Robber’s Roost and gain Cassidy’s respect. But jealousy in Cassidy’s crew leads Lily and Sunny to flee and head to Eagle’s Roost, with Cassidy’s gang on their tails.

While the plot includes a lot of (somewhat flat) action, the driving issue isn’t merely finding and rescuing the captives, but, as the title implies, what kind of marriages, if any, that the main characters have. Nell Foster and Sunny Brown are single, and are provided with suitable mates by the end of the book (not each other). Samantha Wolf leaves her husband for his rival, the very religious Deacon Abraham “Blue” Crane, and Lily Williams’ marriage to her husband, Vern, is strengthened.

While the plot itself isn’t all that strong, its hardly the biggest problem with the novel. Osmond simply makes the kind of rookie mistakes that are seen so often in self-published books when the author hasn’t sought external editing. Especially early in the text there are narrative jumps, where Osmond doesn’t realize that he didn’t adequately explain what happened. No doubt the situation was clear in his mind, but that clarity didn’t make it to the page.

Osmond’s overall message is also somewhat distracted. While the title implies a focus on what makes a loving relationship after marriage, the bulk of the novel focuses on when the main characters are not with their “sweethearts.” And even when the author tries to make a case that post-marital romance is important, the case is made in statements by the characters instead of actions and elements of the plot. I believe Osmond might have ended up with a better book if he hadn’t titled the book Married Sweethearts and tried to make lame arguments about it in the book.

The book also suffers because of elements outside of Osmond’s control. In an effort to give the right atmosphere to the book, Osmond relies on language and terminology that has not survived well the last 85 years—several times that language obscures the events, and the context doesn’t always help clear up what Osmond is saying.

So, I can’t really recommend Married Sweethearts, not unless someone wants to carefully edit the book to remove the narrative jumps and possibly remove the attempts at promoting post-marital romance. But, I don’t have any regrets about reading the book. I think someone needs to look at these older works1, so that we have an idea of which of the many old works of Mormon Literature are worth reading.

  1. I should note that Ardis Parshall has re-published hundreds of old Mormon short stories from pre-1970 official LDS periodicals in her blog, Keepapitchinin. Many of the stories she has collected are worth your time.

2 comments: “Needing an Editor: a Review of Alfred Osmond’s Married Sweethearts

  1. Kent Larsen Post author

    I should have added that there is one surprising thing that happens in the book that may, to some readers, make it worth looking at:

    It includes a same-sex kiss.

  2. Th.

    .

    Sexual in nature?

    ===========

    In other news, if we weren’t awash in new stuff, I think editing the old would be worth doing. It still might be a good exercise.

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