If you read Nephi Anderson’s fiction for its aesthetic value, as the Mormon critics of the 1960s and 70s did, you’ll likely be disappointed–unless your aesthetic standards allow for “preachiness,” that catch-all term commonly used when describing Mormon fiction’s apparent tendency to use art as a vehicle for gospel teaching.
If you read his fiction as products of turn-of-the-century Mormon and American culture, however, you’ll likely have a more satisfying experience. Anderson, after all, was very much a man of his day–and keenly aware of the world around him. Rather than being an aesthetic failure, his work is a rich repository of responses to the cultural changes happening in Utah and the rest of the nation.
In fact, looking at Anderson’s work from this perspective helps us better understand some of his more problematic works, like his 1918 short story “Forfeits,” a second place winner in one of the monthly fiction contests the Improvement Era sponsored for a time. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can check it out here.)
In the story, a young man, Gale Thompson, returns to his Utah hometown nearly five years after “seek[ing] adventure and perchance fortune in the world” (519). By chance, Gale meets up with Dick Stevens, a friend who once accompanied him in his wanderings, who has since returned home and married Gale’s sister, Laura. During this reunion, it comes out that Dick and Laura’s child–an ambiguously sexed child that both men refer to only as “it”–was born blind because of a sexually transmitted disease Dick had contracted while he and Gale lived in Chicago and “dabble[d] in forbidden things” (521). The news sobers Gale, who fears that he may still carry the disease–even though a quack city doctor once pronounced him cured. His joyful return is over in an instant:
Continue reading “Nephi Anderson, WWI, and the Curse of Sexual Sin”
A post welcoming Mormon literary critic and scholar Scott Hales as he joins A Motley Vision.
I’m pleased to announce that Scott Hales has joined A Motley Vision. Most of our readers will know Scott as a regular commenter her at AMV, the proprietor of the excellent The Low-Tech World, and from his contributions to Dawning of a Brighter Day and Modern Mormon Men.
I’m incredibly pleased by this development and am kicking myself that I didn’t extend the invitation months ago.
Please join me in welcoming Scott Hales to the AMV team.
Scott Hales digs into the Church History Library archives for more information on Mormon novelist Nephi Anderson and his potential link to a Deseret News columnist named “Scriptus”.
Wm writes: Scott Hales — who most AMV readers will know from The Low-Tech World and Modern Mormon Men — spent some time earlier this year doing archival research on Mormon literature. Here’s a guest post by Scott that comes out of some of that research.
Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?
by Scott Hales
In the Nephi Anderson Collection of the Church History Library is a folder that contains newspaper clippings that Nephi Anderson collected throughout his life. Most of these are of articles, letters to the editor, or poems he published in newspapers in Utah, a few eastern cities, and England. Many of them, like clippings about missionary work or anti-Mormon activity in England, are unremarkable because they represent the kind of thing you would expect Anderson to save. Others, like a few describing violent crimes (“Child Murder Near Southend, Head Broken with a Slater’s Hammer,” “Ex-Convict Found Drowned”), raise fascinating questions about why an author known for his sentimentality, “lovely spirit,” and the “gentleness and kindness in his being” would be drawn to such grisly stories. (I have my own theories about the dark imagination of Nephi Anderson, but I’ll save them for a later post.)
Continue reading “Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?”
Wm interviews Scott Hales to find out what Scott’s experience teaching a unit of Mormon literature to non-LDS college students was like.
Scott Hales is a literary critic, Ph.D. student, writer and all-around Mormon culture raconteur. He was one of the brains (and brawn) behind the Mormon Lit Blitz, he blogs about Mormon literature and other stuff at The Low-Tech World, and also writes for Modern Mormon Men. He just finished teaching Mormon literature to non-LDS college students and graciously agreed to an interview about the experience.
For our readers who weren’t aware of this project, tell us briefly about how you came to be teaching a unit on Mormon literature and how it fits into the overall context of the class.
About a year ago I submitted a proposal to the English department for me to teach a 200-level Topics in Literature class called “American Religious Landscapes.” The basic idea behind the class was to look at fiction that explores the ways religion attaches itself to landscapes both concrete and abstract. I had just finished an independent study on Mormon fiction for credit toward my degree, so I was looking for an excuse to try out some of my ideas about Mormon literature on a captive audience.
At the time, a lot of my ideas focused on how Mormon fiction often suggests ways to reimagine the boundaries Mormons set around themselves. So, I found myself thinking a lot about Mormonism and its literature as a landscape or network of landscapes, which seemed appropriate considering how Mormons from the very beginning have tried to establish a strong physical presence with planned cities and temples. I also found myself looking at the way other religious groups do much the same thing. I figured that while Mormons are a peculiar people, they’re not that peculiar in their desire to stake their claim on the land. Continue reading “Scott Hales on teaching Mormon literature”
A guest post from Scott Hales explores common reactions to Mormon fiction and makes a plea for submissions that depict contemporary Mormon life.
Wm says: Scott asked me to post this. I was loathe to do so because I’m going to enter the contest so why would I want more competition? But I have a reputation of magnanimity to uphold so here it is…
A New Plea for Fiction
by Scott Hales
The other day, I posted on Facebook that the publication agreement for a review I wrote of Angela Hallstrom’s Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction had come in the mail. Among the comments that followed was one that suggested the book should have been called Latter-day Fiction: Disposable.
Now, I doubt the guy who made the comment had ever read the book–even though I know he’s no stranger to Mormon studies. More likely, his comment sprang from the common misconception among Mormons–and we all know it’s there–that fiction written by Latter-day Saints about Latter-day Saints and for Latter-day Saints isn’t worth reading. Not by anyone over the age of fourteen, at least. And even then, it’s still disposable. Continue reading “A Mormon Lit Blitz plea”
AMV reminds its readers to get writing for the Mormon Lit Blitz Contest, which we endorse although we aren’t official sponsors.
Wm– Although not an official sponsor, AMV is definitely on board with concept of the Mormon Lit Blitz Writing Contest, and we are happy to promote it. Ya’ll should enter. I daresay some of us AMVers or friends of AMV will be doing so. It’s only 1,000 words!
CALL FOR CONTEST SUBMISSIONS
Now announcing the first ever Mormon Lit Blitz Writing Contest organized by James Goldberg and Scott Hales. Send up to three submissions by 15 January, 2012 to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win a Kindle and more.
What we want:
Short work for Mormons to be published and read online. Continue reading “The Mormon Lit Blitz Contest: show us your best 1k words”
Some quick, subjective reactions to the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Irreantum…
Favorite review: “Modern Mormon Family: Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth” by Scott Hales. I find Scott’s writing style quite winning and charming in this review.
Favorite essay*: “Wrestling with God: Invoking Scriptural Mythos and Language in LDS Literary Works” by James Goldberg. His other essay is funnier and more interesting, but this is solid, critical (and critical) work. I haven’t read something that feels like it really moves the field in awhile. This does — both descriptively and prescriptively.
Favorite poem: “Disco Hero” by Liz Chapman. Uniquely Mormon, very funny, and totally approachable. Just what I need from poetry that appears in Mormon journals.
Favorite short story: “Flight” by Courtney Miller Santo. I love that it’s an old couple and how their oldness and their coupleness plays out and how real, yet unique, yet fictional it seems. I enjoyed the background presence of the mommy blogger daughter (although it’s maybe a little too hammered home in the end). The imagery with the hummingbirds somehow feels like it’s adding to the whole mix without screaming allegory. Very nicely done.
*Note that I’m bundling the critical essays and creative nonfiction, which I probably shouldn’t, but I see them as all on the same continuum and so react to them as such.