Squeaky Clean

What makes literature erotic?

On a recent road trip with my younger sister, I needed a little help staying awake. She volunteered to read to me from the last few pages of a novel I had brought along. This was my first experience with D.H. Lawrence, which is just as well because I think at a younger age I would never have made it through his deliciously drawn-out descriptive prose. My new favorite Mormon curmudgeon, Arthur Henry King, had recommended Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent to me in one of his speeches from Arm the Children. He assured me that it wasn’t as obscene as Lawrence’s contemporaries complained. My sister, however, was promptly scandalized. Not even three sentences into the book, she paused.

“Uh oh. This is about to get dirty.”

I, having already finished most of the novel, including the part where an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl gives the protagonist advice on marital intimacy, was pretty confident that it wasn’t going to be dirty. “What do you mean?”

“Let’s just say that the next sentence uses the word voluptuous.”

“The word voluptuous is dirty?” I asked her Socratically.

“Well,” she said, blushing, “yeah.”

“I don’t think it is. Keep reading.”

We finished the end of the novel and successfully made it past the voluptuous, sensual and phallic parts. None of them were obscene; most of them were figurative. We skipped back and re-read a passage of the book I had particularly enjoyed – it defined the distinction and relationship of the sexes in a way that I’ve rarely seen in 20th century literature. The way Lawrence views the roles of male and female is remarkably akin to LDS doctrine. I then talked with my sister for a while about what she thinks makes literature dirty. She’s fairly open-minded and an English major, but she’s young, and we came to some interesting conclusions. It was an excellent opportunity for me to vocalize and evaluate honestly my opinions on what literature I find worthwhile for filling my head.

With Lawrence still swimming around in the murky Mexican lakes of my subconscious, I began reading a new novel a few days later. I must admit that I read this book with the express intent of hating it; I’ll state my bias now, but my opinion of the book did not improve upon reading it. Stephenie Meyer is somewhat of a phenomenon in popular Mormon culture these days. The BYU grad emblazons her About the Author bookflaps with those lofty Provo credentials and then ships her books out to the national teenage market. Maybe the Twillight series is not intended to be interpreted as “Mormon Lit;” its marketing strategies and the fact that you’ll find it in bright endcap displays at Deseret Book seem to argue otherwise. Regardless of its “Mormonness,” it is perceived as a Mormon Book and should be considered one. Anything that young girls are reading at the recommendation of their Mia Maid advisers has a responsibility, in my opinion, to reflect and uphold church ideals. Twilight does a dismal job.

Online reviews I’ve read of Twilight emphasize the “squeaky clean,” “necessarily chaste” relationship of the teenage protagonist and her vampire boyfriend. I would argue vehemently otherwise. Meyer doesn’t once use the word voluptuous, but her novel is one of the most blatantly erotic books I’ve read in a long time. Whether or not a sex scene ever occurs in the lines of the text, the erotic effect can be judged by how many sex scenes occur in the mind of the reader. Meyer’s characters Bella and Edward never do anything technically sexual, but she positions them right at the cusp and holds them there – getting just close enough to titillate her teenage readers without ever using any words she’s not supposed to. In contrast, D.H. Lawrence, the notorious libertine, accomplishes an entire novel on the complex intimate relationship of the sexes without once ushering the reader into the bedroom. Sex scenes occur between Lawrence’s lines, but they are private, quiet, appropriate, and never exploited.

Meyer’s novels aren’t considered serious literature by any scholars that I’m aware of. However, their nearly universal presence in our Mormon culture is something we need to watch. Violating nearly every standard in For the Strength of Youth, Meyer still manages to market herself as a worthwhile, squeaky clean alternative to “worldly” forms of entertainment. I would much rather my teenage sisters read novels that would elevate their worldviews and deepen their respect and appreciation for human intimacy than see them swooning over the abusive, controlling vampire character of Edward Cullen. I would recommend that any parent read these novels for him or herself before passing them along to a child. And I would hope that we, as an LDS community, could recognize what is “lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy,” whencever it comes, and promote higher standards in an increasingly wicked world.

45 thoughts on “Squeaky Clean”

  1. Recommending Lawrence over Meyer. That’s a bold move, Anneke. I have yet to read the second and third novels so I’ll reserve expressing a definitive opinion. The first novel was okay. It started out much better than it ended, imo.

    “The way Lawrence views the roles of male and female is remarkably akin to LDS doctrine.”

    I’m trying to figure out why you would claim that, but so far have struck out. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s been so long since I read Lawrence’s work or because you’re seeing something I just wouldn’t. I do remember his theory about the ideal relationship being like twin stars that orbit each other but never fully possess each other. Would you be willing to elaborate?

    D.H. Lawrence’s novels are not bad. But his essays on American literature are great. He gets some stuff wrong, I think, but they also contain some of the best lines of literary judgment ever.

  2. Anneke, as I sit writing this comment, I turn and gaze fondly behind me at my collection of D. H. Lawrence novellas, poetry, short stories, and travel writing, collected during my Lawrence period in my 20s. It’s the most extensive collection of any writer’s work that I own, and I consider the whole lot intimate companions. None of his novels sit on my shelf (I checked those out of the BYU library) but I remember being “woo-wooed” for reading novels titled Sons and Lovers and Women in Love on the bus as I rode from BYU to Orem (where I lived in Arthur King’s household for a brief time).

    I couldn’t get enough of good ol’ D. H. Reading his work completely reconfigured my brain, at times to the point of causing me headaches. Your comments that Lawrence “defined the distinction and relationship of the sexes in a way that I’ve rarely seen in 20th century literature” reflects part of the reason I felt so fascinated, but also I found the overall intensity with which he engaged language and experience in general inspiring and, um, stimulating.

    After I had read through most of Lawrence’s work, I asked A. H. King, “After Lawrence, what?” He smiled and said, “After Lawrence, I don’t think there is anything.” I think I might have said this before, but while we’re fretting over our Mormon Miltons and Shakespeares, what we probably need more is a Mormon Lawrence

    As for Meyer’s work, I forced myself to finish her first novel, winced a few times, shrugged at the end, then resold the book on Amazon.

  3. Oh, and BTW, Arthur King thought D. H. Lawrence’s sense for the bonds between men reflective of what King called “a longing for the priesthood.”

  4. That’s fascinating, Patricia.

    I once wrote a paper on the wrestling scene in, ummmm, I think it’s “Sons and Lovers.” I used his essay on the work of Poe and his discussion of relationships in terms of “resistance” and unison as a critical frame for understanding the scene.

    The grad student who was acting as TA didn’t like the paper. He thought that I did too much summarizing. Never mind that my summarizing was criticism. I wonder what I’d think of it now. Sadly, most of my undergraduate work is lost on a corrupted disc.

  5. Anneke,
    I’m so glad to hear from another person who shares my views on Twilight. I know of someone who calls the Twilight series “soft porn for Mormon girls,” and I have to say that, though it may sound a little extreme, it’s not really far from the truth. But it’s not just the titillating nature of the books that concerns me. In fact, that pales in comparison with the real issue: that they teach impressionable, romantically-inclined young women some very damaging lies about relationships and the nature of love. In particular, these two:

    1) Infatuation = love.
    In Twilight, Bella and Edward have an unhealthily obsessive relationship–one that causes them to shut out their family and friends and focus only on each other. Whenever they are together, they spend their time fulfilling each other, not serving others or developing their talents. Bella’s relationship with Edward puts a strain on her relationships with her father and her best friend, for example. Also, it causes her to feel apathy toward pretty much everything else–including college–other than Edward. Her single preoccupation is to be with Edward as much as she can for as long as possible. This is a pretty clear case of infatuation, yet it’s propped up as the pinnacle of love.

    2)Edward is completely unrealistic.
    The reason that so many teenage girls have a crush on Edward is the same reason he is an unrealistic representation of men. He constantly wants to know what Bella is thinking and feeling and he’s so completely emotionally in tune with her that he always says just the right things to her without her ever having to help him out. They never have to work at their communication. They never have to work at anything. It seems to me that young women tend to have too much of an idealized image of relationships anyway. Do they really need something to feed their idea that they can have a relationship that will completely fulfill all their emotional needs?

    I would have to say that it’s almost because Twilight doesn’t have explicit sex scenes that it’s so insidious. I’ve seen the books exchanged between middle-aged women and between young women leaders and their girls at church. Half the girls in my language development class at BYU last semester said Twilight was their favorite book. I almost wish the books _did_ have explicit sex in them, just so Mormon women couldn’t fool themselves into thinking the books aren’t just as emotionally damaging as an chick flick or romance novel that has similar themes.

  6. Um, in the above comment, point #2 should have stated “A relationship will fulfill all of your emotional needs” rather than “Edward is completely unrealistic” as the second lie about love. Sorry about that.

  7. I couldn’t agree more with Anneke and Katherine’s points. I’ve been saying the same thing to anyone who asks me my opinion of the series for two years now. You can imagine how popular that makes me.

  8. Amen. I read more romance than most men I know and I was predisposed to like Twilight. Instead I was horrified (and not by the vampires). Katherine hit it on the head for much of my qualms, but I’ll point out what hit me as a guy as the most relationship-damaging aspect of the novel: Edward is expected to have all the self-control. Bella is not just passive, she is actively tempting and provoking him.

    The theme seems to be that because he is “good” and “pure”, Bella can trust him to always restrain himself. As a guy who scraped through that hormone-driven phase by the skin of my teeth and with aspirations of purity, it horrifies me that girls might get the message that they can abdicate their responsibility for purity just as long as the guy they’re with is good. I’m not saying that the girl has to have all the responsibility, I’m just saying that it’s a group effort and that going into it one-sided is a quick way for good people to end up in a world of trouble.

  9. Thanks for your feedback, William and Patricia; I’m glad to get a more qualified literary opinion on Lawrence. (I’m also more than a little jealous that you were personally acquainted with Arthur Henry King!) I read through and found a passage from Lawrence that captured what I was specifically talking about:
    (how do I format text in these replies? Just assume that everything from this point forwards is a block quote.)

    What else? To him there was nothing else. The star, [the] Morning Star, was something that sprung between him and her and hung shining, the strange third thing that was both of them and neither of them, between his night and her day.

    Was it true? Was she nothing, nothing, by herself? And he, alone, failing his last manhood, without her was he nothing, or next to nothing? As a fig tree which grows up, but never comes to flower.

    “Let the Morning Star rise between us,” he would say. “Alone you are nothing, and I am manqué. But together we are the wings of the Morning.”

    Was it true? Was this the final answer to man’s assertion of individuality?

    Was it true? And was it her sacred duty to sit beside him in the green dress of Malintzi, in the church, the goddess admitting her halfness? Her halfness! Was there no star of the single soul? Was that all an illusion?

    Was the individual an illusion? Man, any man, every man, by himself just a fragment, knowing no Morning Star? And every woman the same; by herself, starless and fragmentary. Even in relation to the innermost God, still fragmentary and unblest.

    The individual, like the perfect being, does not and cannot exist, in the vivid world. We are all fragments. And at the best, halves. The only whole thing is the Morning Star. Which can only rise between two: or between many.

    (The Plumed Serpent, Wordsworth Classics, 1995. P. 349)

  10. Katherine and Jacob,

    I would agree with your observations and add one more concern of mine: Edward seems to me a very good example of an abusive boyfriend. He controls every moment of her day – he dictates what she will and will not do. She feels she has to lie to and hurt her father and those close to her to preserve her relationship with Edward, and she uses emotional manipulation to do so. There is absolutely nothing healthy about their relationship, and I cringe every time I hear a girl rave about how dreamy Edward is.

    I’m glad, though, that not everyone is being taken in by thinking this book is a sweet little romance. I found the following review by a teenage girl on Deseretbook.com:

    “I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone!!
    I started reading this book because it seemed like all my friends had read it, they all said it was a great book. So I started reading it, it was fine tell I hit the first swear word, and I was suprised, I didn’t know the author was an LDS author. So I just kept reading hoping it would get better. As I got to the middle of the book or should I say when Bella started STEADY DATING Edward I started to get uncomfortable, because Bella is a Junior right; well I’m a Junior and right now I would never get that involved with a guy, because your just headed for trouble after that! I felt that it wasn’t even close to LDS standards because it is going against everything we were ever taught since we were young. Personally I wouldn’t start reading it because once you hit the garbage it’s a waste of time after that. I didn’t finish the book because it wasn’t worth my time, if I wasn’t learning anything It wasn’t worth my time. It got to the point that I started to skip pages it was that bad!!!!!”

  11. Thank you for putting up those quotes from Lawrence! They struck a chord. I hadn’t read The Plumed Serpent but will be sure to now. Amazon Christmas gift certificate, here I come!

  12. Annake,

    As you know, I was given this book as a gift, read it, and had a lot to say about it. Although the concept of a girl in love with someone she can never be with has been done many times, I’m not sure that I’ve seen anyone write it so “well” and so terribly at the exact same time. As a sociology major, we studied the key points used by the pornography industry to entice people to read/watch and increase their addiction over time. This author, knowingly or not, has managed to hit on them all as they relate to women and women’s pornography. (Different from men’s in certain key elements which have been highlighted by other comments above.)

    One other lie that should probably be pointed out is that you can go to the very edge and never, ever get hurt. You can put yourself in all kinds of immoral and outright dangerous situations and, at the very last moment, get “rescued” by someone. Bella is a foolish young girl who pays no attention to her surroundings, deliberately tempts a boyfriend to go as far as he can without, I guess, drinking her blood or having sexual relations (though they get almost there a lot), and purposely places herself with someone who wants to kill her simply for the challenge of it. And in all of these, as you know, she is saved by the very boy, pretending to be a man,who is part of that danger. I had a few roommates who reminded me of her. Some of them, luckily, managed to get wise and get out of that mentality before they got more than a few scrapes. Not all of them were so lucky and they have to live with the scars for the rest of their lives. Abuse, sexual violence, and violence in all other forms are not themes to be romanticized or downplayed. It disgusts me that after her near rape (and why do authors think it so wonderful to write and romanticize a near rape and rescue scene anyway) she is absolutely calm, as if it were no big deal, while Edward is so angry he “needs” her to help keep him distracted so that he doesn’t go and kill those who tried to harm her.

    This book takes sacred themes and important issues and plays around with them, just as Bella and Edward take and play with them. I hope that more youth can see through this author’s writings to understand the dangerous and seductive way that she hopes you will read and “enjoy” her “squeaky clean” book. The fact that she employs religion whenever she needs someone to do a little moralizing is no excuse for an author’s anti-moral and anti-her own religion stance for every other word.

  13. Anneke,
    If you want to read a scathing review of Twilight, pick up the latest issue of BYU Magazine and turn to Richard Cracroft’s Book Nook. He’s merciless. I’d type it up here, but its tone is a little more bitingly sarcastic than I’m comfortable with.

  14. We place such an emphasis in our culture on “avoiding the very appearance of evil” that sometimes we completely overlook such insidious scenes as mentioned above. I personally get a kick out of the blindspot as a creative artist myself by insinuating the heck out of certain scenes the real nature of which, because these scenes are not explicit (read: so obvious that a child would know what’s going on), is often overlooked.

    I’m currently pitching a couple of screenplays to an LDS film producer who gave me the following paraphrased and exaggerated advice, “In LDS films, you can have people’s heads cut off and blood spurting everywhere and one will care, but if the murderer says “Damn!” during his mutilation, then no one will see it.”

    What he meant, of course, is that, as consumers of art, we LDS place way too much emphasis on sex and profantiy over violence, but his caveat also has an undertone that addresses the fact that we seem to be more concerned with the way things look while paying scant attention to the way things actually are.

    While that is great for secret heretics like me who enjoy tossing scandalous things in between the lines that only a few ever catch, the near obsession with appearance over substance we have as a literarature and film-going people means that we, instead of being a peculiar people with lofty ethics, actually share similar standards to the benighted World.

    It is to laugh, from a cultural mindset, but it does not bode well for the present or future of LDS literature. That is to say that writers of LDS pulp fiction will continue to be popular (which makes me happy since that is the only kind of fiction–playwriting not included–I know how, or have a desire to produce), while the real artists among us, the LDS D. H. Lawrences of now and someday, will remain in obscurity.

  15. [Sorry, William, that this discussion has turned a little less than literary.]

    I think Aleea makes a good point about books like Twilight being pornography for women. I don’t see a fundamental different between pornography and romance novels. In both cases, the material damages relationships because it causes one person to have unrealistic expectations of the other, making the other person feel deeply inadequate. In General Conference, President Hinckley has condemned men who make their wives feel inadequate–pornography being something he particularly cites as causing wives to feel this way.

    I think I wouldn’t be so concerned about Twilight if I haven’t seen some very clear evidence that it is damaging relationships. I cite examples from Utah Valley:

    1) I have constantly heard of boyfriends who are utterly bewildered about their girlfriends’ obsession with Edward. My painting teacher last semester said that when she was at Costco, she saw a group of young men walk over to a stack of Twilight books and begin discussing how their girlfriends were all obsessed with the books. She said as they walked away, one of them said, “What’s Edward got that we don’t have?” It’s kind of a funny story, but if you do a mental reversal of roles here, it doesn’t seem as funny. Imagine a group of girls standing near a stack of Lara Croft films at Costco, looking at each other in confusion and saying the same thing.

    2) Another friend of mine has difficulty hanging out with her married friends because every time they’re together, inevitably someone brings up Twilight. It happens every time. They complain about how they wish their husbands were as thoughtful as Edward. One of her friends said her husband asked her one day, “Would you love me better if I were a vampire?” She said, “No, I still love you–I just wish you were more thoughtful.”

    3) I finally decided to read Twilight when all my roommates became fanatical about it almost overnight. One evening my roommate came into the living room and said, “What page are you on?” I said, “page ##.” She said, “I just finished that part, and Katherine, no man is ever going to love us that way. This is why I hate boys.”

    Since when are relationships about being loved the way that we want to be loved? Since when are they about complete emotional or sexual fulfillment? This is the kind of attitude already too pervasive in Western culture–the view that marriage is about personal fulfillment, and if you’re not feeling completely fulfilled, then that’s reason enough to end your commitment to someone (i.e. get divorced.) Pretty sure that’s not the attitude we want to cultivate in young Mormon women, either married or unmarried.

    /rant

  16. For those curious about the Cracroft review in BYU Magazine, it is available online: Book Nook.

    Please note that I’m not endorsing the review. And, in fact, I’d be happy to link to Mormon-focused reviews of Meyer’s novels that are positive.

  17. “I don’t see a fundamental different between pornography and romance novels.”

    I do. Let’s not forgot that the novel really began as the romance novel. And the same critiques were leveled against it. Granted, Meyer doesn’t do show the same critique as Jane Austen does. And I haven’t read beyond the first novel — I understand the later ones extend the tension to the ridiculous.

    That said, Katherine’s example are incredibly interesting and exactly why, imo, the best way is not just to criticize the fluff, but to also produce the meaty stuff (and educate about it).

    You want crazy yet real love? Read _On the Road to Heaven_.

  18. Interesting comments everyone.

    Katherine M,
    I looked at the Cracroft review in BYU Magazine Book Nook, and it is a pretty standard piece, not even really a review, and certainly merciless or sarcastic. Perhaps you are thinking of a different reviewer?
    An excellent series of reviews of the book are by Jana Reiss, who appreciates the romance and the vampires, but not Bella’s passivity, and thought the final book was rushed.
    http://janariess.typepad.com/reviews/2005/10/young_vampires_.html
    http://janariess.typepad.com/reviews/2006/06/young_vampires_.html
    http://janariess.typepad.com/reviews/2007/09/eclipse-by-step.html

  19. Hmm, now that I read the review again, I realized I must have read it differently the first time. It actually seems quite favorable. The first time, a (male) friend read it to me, and it sounded really sarcastic.

  20. I’m not sure that it’s sarcastic, but as Andrew points out, it is in many ways, a non-review review. As if he decided it needed mentioning but wasn’t worth really digging in to.

    Also: I highly recommend the Jana Riess reviews that Andrew links to. I like how open she is about feeling conflicted about the novels.

  21. Wow. Everything I would have said about Twilight has been said. I agree completely with everyone who has stated that the book has low moral themes, includes unhealthy relationships, et cetera. It makes me sad, really, that it’s become such a phenomenon in the LDS culture simply because the author is a member of the LDS church. Sad.

    That being said, I really want to read Lawrence now…never have before….

  22. I remember reading Lawrence my freshman year in college and being completely scandalized. I wonder how I’d feel about it now? Reading what you’ve said I think I’ll add them to my list. As for the Twilight books, now I feel like I have to read them just to see if they really are that bad. Half the women in my book group love them 🙂

  23. I had Cracroft for a Wallace Stegner class at BYU…pure heaven…but that’s a tangent.

    I have really appreciated this discussion on Twilight. I have my own reservations about the series and agree with Jana Riess on many points–I like the pacing, the energy of the novels, but the feminist in me rebels at Bella’s self-worth being based solely on her relationships with controlling men. Whenever I mention this, people are shocked that I am criticizing the novels at all. It’s refreshing to see another point of view.

    Thank you for this discussion. I’ve been reading it with interest.

  24. This is a great post. I haven’t read much (any?) of D.H.Lawrence so I’ll refrain from commenting on his work, but I did read the first book of Twilight.

    More significant, I had other friends read them, and I agree about Edward being the absolute fantasy of a man for Mormon teenagers. He’s dangerous (a vampire!) but not really (he’s good!). He is hot but doesn’t care. He’s rich but doesn’t care and doesn’t have to work for it. He is powerful but is helpless before Bella’s charms after only a glimpse of her. He is attentive and loyal and thinks only of her. He is, in a word, perfect, and he bears about as much resemblance to a real person as an airbrushed Pamela Anderson.

    I was talking to a married friend who was shocked by how much she loved them. I get passionate and obsessed with works of fiction all the time and have learned to enjoy it and let it go when I’m done, but this was the first time it happened to my friend. She read them in part because she was having a hard time with her husband, and, to say the least, they didn’t help.

    “Am I being unfair in comparing him to Edward?”
    “Are you kidding? Yes.”

    It is fantasy romance fiction, and if anyone does take it seriously as a model for how a relationship should work, I think that’s as damaging to one’s psyche as looking at movie porn and expecting real life relationships to resemble those.

    As sheer bubblegum fantasy, though, I didn’t mind Twilight (I haven’t read the sequels.). The dialog was well-done and I was sincerely surprised by the plot. Edward would be up there with Mr. Darcy if Edward had an actual personality instead of being an embodiment of Mormon teenage girls’ desires.

  25. I loved the Twilight series. I would never let a teenage girl read it, unless I knew that she would remember that the relationship between Edward and Bella is a complete fantasy, though. I, personally, would love to be “saved” by the perfect man; thankfully, when I read the books, I was grounded enough in my own relationship reality to realize that my husband was not Edward and would never be Edward. And truthfully, I’m glad he’s not. Edward is boring. Romantic, but boring. He has no life of his own, and neither does Bella. Who really wants to be in a relationship like that? I have to agree, it’s more infatuation than True Love. I find that many of my friends can no longer really seperate the fantasy worlds of books and movies from reality. They gush and dream about how perfect life would be if it were only like “_______”. And it creates a longing for that dream that makes them resent reality. I’m not saying that I don’t ever do that, but I do try not to. Reality is much more fasinating that fantasy. I’ve also found that I was much more of a “prude” when I was still single than I am now. Things that I found absolutly scandalous (like the word “phallic”) then, doesn’t even phase me now. I guess marital intimacy (can I say “sex”?) will do that to you. When something loses it’s mysteriousness (is that even a word?), it also loses it’s power to fasinate, shock and titilate.

  26. It occurred to me that Meyer’s Bella is a good example of the kind of woman Lawrence referred to in his stories as the spoiled white woman, a character who often instigated or meddled her way into serious trouble or caused no end of it for others. If he had written a vampire story with such a character, the vampires would have made short work of her in a very matter-of-fact way, then probably cut her heart out as per “The Woman Who Rode Away.”

    For those interested in exploring Lawrence, be warned that his work carries quite a bit of anger. Even when I read it in my semi-oblivious 20s, I had the strong sense that some of his dazzling insight is filed to a point for the purpose of taking revenge upon the reader. I was frequently irritated, but for me the payoff far exceeded the discomfort of the occasional “Come on, lay off!” moments I experienced. After all, we’re talking about a fellow who ran off with his professor’s wife (a relative of Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”). She left her three children behind to pursue a life on the edge with the intense and brilliant Lawrence. [Ed. note: That is, she left her children to pursue life on the edge with Lawrence.]

    Regardless of Lawrence’s shortcomings,his stories and poetry are charged with influence, and he can give his readers gifts of character. Just so long as you don’t take him too seriously.

  27. I suppose I should echo Patricia’s warning. Though I was fascinated with parallels to LDS belief in Lawrence’s work, he is by no means a universally uplifting writer. In fact, I struggled while reading _The Plumed Serpent_. I hated the protagonist for her grumpy inconsistency and pessimism, right up until the last page. Which, I think, was his point.

  28. Hmmm. As a father of a teenage daughter (and another coming in less than a decade), I think I’ll have to discuss this with my daughter, and put Twilight on the “supervise” list if she wants to read it.

  29. Haven’t read Twilight, but most of my sisters have and so has my wife. My wife and one of my sisters Sarah (more of the literary types) were less than impressed, while my sisters (intelligent, but not necessarily literary) loved it. That’s what I’ve found. Literary types are unimpressed (or seriously concerned about the books morals), while the more rank and file rave about it. Take that for what you will. We have a copy that I plan on reading (just so I can actually comment on it) and we’ll see from there.
    What I really wanted to comment on was Patricia’s comment about the “spoiled, white woman.” I recently watched the BBC version of George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda” and fell in love with the story. I just bought the book the other day and may read it after I finish “Middlemarch.” But “Daniel Deronda” had a woman who was much like “spoiled, white woman”– fascinating, flirtatious, and although she legitimately had a horrible, abusive marriage, she was so set on her own pain that she didn’t see the damage it would do to his life to have Daniel Deronda come “save” her and tempt him to become her lover and hero (and thus destroying his morality and reputation), instead of escaping the relationship and dealing with the consequences she, in some ways, brought on herself (boy, was THAT a run on sentence!). The story, in the end, shows the better path, for which I was thoroughly relieved.

  30. DH Lawrence got a lot of his women’s ideas from having his female students re-write sections of his work for him. (That is courtesy of Dr. Randall Stevenson of the Univ. of Edinburgh.)
    However, I agree with you. I have HUGE issues with girls and women who think that Edward’s abusiveness is romantic. I have ranted about this on my own blog several times, and EVERY time one of my junior high students is reading a Meyer’s book, that student is required to discuss with me all the ways in which Bella is to be taken as fiction for entertainment value only and NOT as a model for life.
    As for the sex in it — of course it’s meant to be sexy; that’s why it’s selling so well. (I wonder, as an adult, what’s going to happen in book four if they actually do try to consumate their marriage. If Edward has no blood flow — as the book says he doesn’t because his heart no longer beats — then how the heck will any sex scene be possible? I don’t want to read the scene anyway; I’m okay with it if it takes place “off stage,” but it doesn’t make any sense within the realms of her world.)

  31. Sorry to come to this so late, but I did wonder one thing as I read your post, Anneke.

    I just wonder if you are being so harsh in your assessment of Meyer’s book not because you find it unsuitable for LDS (and other) youth, but because it is genre fiction rather than literary fiction, as Lawrence’s work is classified. I see this over and over again, and it occurs to me that it isn’t always a fair way to look at fiction.

    This comes up because you note that Meyer’s work isn’t considered to be “serious literature”, as if novels and shorter fiction that is deemed “serious” by that nebulous group of folks called “scholars” can get by with more than genre fiction without bringing condemnation. I’ve always been puzzled by the bifurcation into “serious” and “genre” literature, considering that all fiction, really, is just storytelling at the end of the day.

  32. Sorry I didn’t see your reply earlier, Elaine. You do bring up a good point. Comparing D.H. Lawrence to a trendy genre writer isn’t something one typically does.

    But let’s compare Meyer with one of her peers – J.K. Rowling. Similar subject matter, similar audience: vastly different effect. Do the Harry Potter books have a little sexual tension? Yes. There are a few good snogs for all the main characters. Do they fixate, extol and romanticize the adolescent lust like Meyer does? Not at all. In fact, the silliness of these shallow relationships is revealed and their later consequences shown. The main characters (spoiler alert if you haven’t read book 7) end up married and reproducing without any of the bedroom details… the very way classic, wholesome young love stories have handled the subject for years.

    I don’t think the fact that the Twilight books are “just for fun,” or “just a fantasy” justify any of their content. If anything, we should be more concerned about the morality portrayed in genre fiction because it generally reaches a wider audience and appeals to those who are young, naive and less educated than the literary scholars.

  33. Funny you should bring things around to Harry Potter just in time for me to post. I did not read any of them until just before the 7th book came out, and then I tore through all of them in a couple of months. I wasn’t sure if I resisted because they were about witchcraft or due to the stain of popularity, but my daughter really wanted to buy the 7th book, and I decided if I was going to pony up for a hardback, I was darn well going to read it.

    Well, I think I’ll let my daughter know that if she wants to read this, I’ll read it with her, and we’ll discuss it as we go. I’d be surprised if she’s taken in. I –perhaps unfortunately– taught her to spot codependency in pop ballads, and now I can’t listen to the radio in peace. Thanks for the heads up on Twilight.

  34. .

    I’m responding to the take on Lawrence.

    I have not read anything by Ms Meyer yet and I only skimmed the comments. Somehow I missed this post before, but I want to comment on Lawrence because my own experience with him is so split.

    My first run in with him was “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” and for the first time in my extensive reading life I, without pause, turned from the last sentence to the first and reread the whole thing. Then I skimmed through it again. This was the finest thing I had ever read and I loved loved loved loved loved it. I bought Lawrence books on the cheap.

    I didn’t read them immediately (this is typical of me) and few years passed before I finally picked up Aaron’s Rod.

    Aaron’s Rod is, of all the things I have read in my life, the single closest to pure evil. The philosophy presented in this book confused me and made me think my only proper choice would be to leave my wife. When I though about the book I couldn’t remember how or why I loved my wife. I was constantly dizzy.

    I hate that book.

    But I will acknowledge the skill of a writer that can make me doubt the things I am most sure of.

    I haven’t touched the other novels or stories that I own since my Aaron’s Rod experience. I don’t know what I’ll find under those covers.

    And I’m not the type to shy away from what many would dismiss as anti13th I read a lot of stuff many faithful Saints would term evil and ugly and wrong. My parents and sister are consistently embarrassed by what I recommend in terms of movies and books. No matter how excellent I find something, it’s never pablum enough.

    But Aaron’s Rod…..

    Ah, but “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”! How I love it!

    Lawrence, I suppose, plain confuses me.

  35. My degree is in creative writing from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Amongst my teachers were James McKinley and playwright Frank Higgins. For what that’s worth.

    So. That said,

    I don’t think the fact that the Twilight books are “just for fun,” or “just a fantasy” justify any of their content. If anything, we should be more concerned about the morality portrayed in genre fiction because it generally reaches a wider audience and appeals to those who are young, naive and less educated than the literary scholars.

    I have no words to express my level of disgust with this attitude.

  36. I think it’s a bit more complicated than what Anneke says, but here’s the thing:

    There have been a whole series of anecdotal evidences that Mormon women (both young and older, married and unmarried) have had their perceptions of male-female romantic relations changed by the Twilight books.

    And: genre audiences ARE (or can be — there is, of course, overlap) different from literary audiences. I’m not entirely sure about what that really means in terms of how various readers read various titles.

    It really all gets back to concerns about reading fiction (way back), about the effects of film (not as far back), and about the effects of video games (fairly recent).

    I’m not fond of the hand-wringing and hysterical moralizing. On the other hand, I think the “it’s just entertainment” line doesn’t work either. If, for example, Hollywood execs think that their works don’t have any influence whatsoever on behavior then why do they also buy advertising?

  37. William, my perception is that the divide is only there between the “literary” and the “genre” because the persons who identify as literary identify as ARTISTES and therefore make value judgments on the art/craft/work of those who do not–or those whose work they deem not to rise to some nebulous level of art/skill/craft whatever–and those who write anything else are “less worthy,” “unclean,” “impure” or otherwise from the wrong side of the tracks.

    Add in the “Mormon” and “Mormon standards” and “moral” qualifiers and, well…

  38. that the divide is only there between the “literary” and the “genre” because the persons who identify as literary identify as ARTISTES and therefore make value judgments on the art/craft/work of those who do not”“or those whose work they deem not to rise to some nebulous level of art/skill/craft whatever”“and those who write anything else are “less worthy,” “unclean,” “impure” or otherwise from the wrong side of the tracks.

    I don’t think that’s the case at all.

    I had a friend in my last ward who told me that she liked to read. She was home a lot with debilitating headaches, so I thought I’d bring her some books every once in a while to keep her entertained. She told me she mostly liked historical fiction, so I looked through what I had to see what she might enjoy. Most of my collection is pretty far out there. I settled on C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. because I thought it was pretty accessible.

    She really didn’t like it. She told me she appreciated my generosity but it was just “too weird” and she preferred reading things that weren’t so philosophical.

    I think there are definite tastes that separate genre fiction from literary fiction. There are a lot of people who don’t particularly enjoy reading deeply symbolic or philosophical writing, and it’s not snobbery on our part that makes it so.

    I think my comments earlier in this discussion comparing Stephenie Meyer to J.K. Rowling illustrate the fact that I don’t consider myself an “artiste” and I’m not just looking down on the books because I find them literarily “impure.”

  39. my perception is that the divide is only there between the “literary” and the “genre” because the persons who identify as literary identify as ARTISTES

    Oh, sure, but I don’t perceive this is a big issue for Mormon writers and readers because most of them, in my experience, don’t worry about that divide — in fact that’s well-reflected by Zarahemla’s roster of books published/announced so far — we have a horror novel, a literary fiction novel (with some romance elements), a collection of literary fiction short stories (plus a novella that includes some spec-fic elements), an autobiographical memoir that’s somewhat literary, a memoir that’s literary, a horror/fantasy novel, and later this year a classic literary fiction novel.

    For many (most?) Mormons who read/write, genre is a valid — even more valid — way to be able to explore Mormon themes in ways that literary fiction (or at least salable lit) might not allow. Both Orson Scott Card and David Farland turned from literary fiction to genre fiction. Many of the AML crowd write (or have written) both “literary” and “genre” work.

    I get where you are coming from, MoJo, but I don’t think that it’s as much of an issue in Mormon culture as it is with the American culture. The standards one is much more of a difficulty — the recent hornet’s nest posts at LDS Publisher are good examples of that.

  40. The standards one is much more of a difficulty — the recent hornet’s nest posts at LDS Publisher are good examples of that.

    Good heavens! I had no idea this was all going on. I’m completely fascinated on about seventeen different levels.

  41. Neither did I. I comment at length here. While composing my response, I think I came up with another important variable: that the narrator must always be an objectively reliable source of the “truth.” My narrators are only reliable about what they consider to be the truth. I can see where this would become problematic for some.

  42. .

    Some people don’t care for complications. I’ve been fascinated, following their discussions.

  43. Thank you for finally saying this about the Twilight books. I have not read the books, but the way I hear women talking about them I have kept my distance. They seem to lead a person to think about sexual relations between the characters for one and even question the mechanics. Here is a discussion for example: http://ms-adventures.blogspot.com/2008/07/twilight-discussion-now-open.html I had not yet heard anyone who read these books that was bothered by them and I was very surprised.

  44. haha although I must confess I was not impressed by the books, your… “review” on them really cracked me up! Such vehemence… such passion… I bet all of my money you don’t give those feelings the proper escape 😉 ALLOW YOURSELF TO ENJOY THE LIFE AND VITALITY GIVEN TO YOU! for Christ’s sake! it’s just a book that has some hot scenes, read Marquis de Sade, THAT’ll give you a wider view of the world, since you have obviously not experienced by yourself… it’s sad, really. You’re missing on a lot =D

  45. What really surprises me about your post is that anyone could write “The way Lawrence views the roles of male and female is remarkably akin to LDS doctrine” without realizing what an indictment that is of both Lawrence AND Mormonism. Lawrence’s sense that women just need it hard and heavy in order to fall into worshipful adoration of male vitality and power is indeed pretty attuned to Joseph Smith’s ideas about gender, but that’s not really a recommendation of either. And the fact that Lawrence was obsessed with anal sex but had to find more delicate ways to convey how much pleasure was to be found at the back and bottom of the loins is also a very salient characteristic of his prose, but again, not necessarily a strength.

    And for what it’s worth, I knew Sir Art personally–he was in my ward. He was a pompous windbag who was always asking the bishop to let him speak so he could harangue the Americans on our misuse of English vocabulary. It doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t have enough imagination or complexity to realize that literature extended beyond a misogynist Brit.

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