As I mentioned in my last post, I was a presenter this year at the annual Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference in Provo, Utah. My talk, “The Role of the Novel in Post-Utopian Mormonism,” was scheduled first thing in the morning on the first day of the conference, but it had a decent turnout—despite the room temperature being at near-sauna levels. The other presentations on the panel, which was chaired by Bruce Jorgensen, were David Paxman’s “The Plan of Salvation: Why the Angels Rebelled” and Benjamin Crosby’s “Canonical Kairos: Demystifying the Conditions for Creation of Mormon Scripture.” Both were excellent, and we had an hour-long (or nearly hour-long) discussion following the three presentations. In many ways, I think Ben’s presentation, which drew on Covino’s distinction between generative and arresting magic-rhetoric to talk about the ways discourse works within the Church and on its member, provided a good foundation of ideas to guide the discussion.
This week I finished Susa Young Gates’ John Stevens’ Courtship: A Story of the Echo Canyon War (1909), one of the first Mormon novels. Below are some notes I drew up to gather my thoughts on the book, which I think is fairly typical of the kinds of fiction Mormons were producing at the time. A few things set it apart, though, and I try to highlight those aspects in my observations.
- As best as I can tell, John Stevens’ Courtship is the first novel published in book form by Susa Young Gates, one of Brigham Young’s many daughters. It might also be the first novel published in book form by a Mormon woman, but I could be wrong. Earlier novels by Mormon women had been published before 1909, in serial form, including Emmeline B. Wells’ Hephizibah (1889) in The Woman’s Exponent and Gates’ The Little Missionary (1899) in the Juvenile Instructor.
- It is probably the best example we have of early Mormon historical fiction. It certainly uses Mormon history in a way that compliments the narrative better than either Nephi Anderson’s Marcus King, Mormon (which is superficially historical) or John St. John (which is textbook historical). I imagine Gates’ models are the works of Walter Scott, E.D.E.N. Southworth, and their imitators. Here, the action of her characters play out against the pageantry and crises of the Utah War in a way that does not sacrifice character and plot development to the facts of history. In other words, I feel Gates allows the events, atmosphere, and attitudes of the Utah War to unfold through her characters’ stories rather than through pedantic narration. more
Part One may be found here.
Both Austenland and A & H tackle romantic fantasies and the nature of romantic comedies, their “grotesque mimicry of actual love (A & H 304).” And when Becky tries to decide whether or not she could actually love Felix romantically, she writes a screenplay with a movie ending. But the novel’s conclusion isn’t a “Hollywood ending.” Did you feel that writing it the way you did was risky?
Oh sure. I knew some readers would be angry, and I was sorry for that, because I knew absolutely that the ending was the right one for this story. I think it goes back to genre–those who expected a certain ending might not be willing to go with me where I wanted to take the story. And this story just might not be a good fit for their sensibilities. That’s okay. I knew (was told) that the book would sell better if I made the Hollywood ending work, but for me that would have made the story pointless and been sheer betrayal of the characters. I try to do right by the characters. more
Shannon Hale is the author of several young adult novels—including Enna Burning (reviewed here), the Newbery Award winner The Princess Academy, and, most recently, Forest Born. She has also published two adult novels, Austenland and The Actor and the Housewife. The latter provoked strong responses among Shannon’s readers, and no wonder. It’s a bold work likely to twang nerves, even for those who like it. I reviewed it for AMV here. As part of my impulse to explore and enjoy The Actor and the Housewife until sated, I invited Shannon to an AMV interview. She graciously—and prodigiously—answered several questions in this two-part interview.
What artistic works have inspired you?
That’s a big question. I was raised on fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, etc. High school and college was mostly the “classics,” then grad school was literary fiction (living authors do exist!). After selling The Goose Girl, I discovered YA lit, and that makes up 50% of my reading material now. And then there’s music, movies, plays, visual art…hard for me to dissect it, but it all gets into my brain. more