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.

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35 Responses to AML Book Club: August with Anderson Discussion

  1. Th. says:

    .

    Ergm. I really want to participate, but I’m still quite far from finishing Chester Lawrence. I shall redouble my efforts.

  2. Sarah Reed says:

    “How Mormon do you need to be to marry a Mormon heroine?” Good question. I was rooting for Chester, so I wasn’t very convinced by Julia’s decision that she should marry Glen. It seemed like it was the more comfortable, less risky thing to do. Although it was less quasi-incestuous, it was more endogamous, if that makes sense?

    Anderson’s attitude toward marriage seems ambivalent to me. His love triangles sometimes show the possibility of loving or being happy with more than one person, other times they’re an obstacle to finding the “one true love”. These are contrasted nicely PRC, where Julia clearly *must* choose either Chester or Glen, whereas her father got to marry two women whom he apparently loved.

  3. Gabriel G. says:

    I took up this challenge, but only had enough time to read PRC. I found the description of LDS life over a century ago quite fascinating, even if the narrator’s voice was at times rather preachy. What i found most interesting, however, was the book’s paratext:

    1) I wondered about the subtitle. Why on earth did this novel need a subtitle? My first thought was that the title in and of itself was probably not enough to tempt the reader, hence the descriptive subtitle. Is there something more to it?

    2) More interesting still for me was the “Introductory”. It struck me that John Henry Evans viewed the Church more as a distinct people than as a Church (e.g., Mormonism “has created an atmosphere, an environment, the likes of which you can find nowhere else”). This idea of the members of the Church being a singular people quite distinct from everyone else–the rest of the world were “outsiders”–probably made a lot of sense when the Church was mostly confined to Utah and the surrounding areas. (With a global Church, it becomes harder to think in those terms.) In that context it made sense to rally the troops to develop a “pure literature [...] among us” by encouraging us to “be loyal to our own”. I am left to wonder whether that vision was ever realized. Has it been fulfilled as LDS writers have become prolific in the U.S., not only in the niche LDS market but in other markets as well? Or did something break with the “lost generation” and there is no going back?

    3) I was tickled that Anderson felt the need to include a lonely footnote in this novel so as to make sure the reader was not too critical of the attitudes of the trustees who had been pioneers.

    Anyway, those are my two cents (with some of my own questions).

    • Th. says:

      .

      I have to admit I rather love the introduction. I find it thrilling, frankly. I first ran across it a couple years before reading the novel, but rereading it now I had similar feelings.

      Perhaps because, in my opinion, the Church should be a people as well as a Church. That’s my feeling.

      • Gabriel G. says:

        I agree that Church members should be one people, and in a way we are. I’ve lived in several countries, and every place i’ve been, i always look forward to meeting the Saints and feel right at home among them, even when we can’t speak the same language. I always make friends first and more permanently at Church. This is as it should be, since we are commanded to build Zion, or in other words, to have no -ites among us.

        However, in terms of cultural products only, it is harder to see a global Church as being able to take up John Henry Evans’ call. Distance from the Church’s center, language differences, and very low concentrations of Saints in most places amount to obstacles that are not easily solvable. I think it is telling that there is no LDS book market in most places other than the US (despite attempts at creating such a market by Editorial Zarahemla and Nauvoo Libros), and even in the US, the market is overwhelmingly an English-speaking market, despite the 35 million people who use Spanish as their main language in said country. So i have a hard time seeing how a global Church can work across such vast distances and hundreds of languages to fulfill the call to arms, so to speak.

        At any rate, that was not my main point. I was simply reasoning that the “dream” could only be fulfilled for literature in English and in the US, and then i wondered whether it had in fact been fulfilled in that respect or whether it is still a goal in the horizon. I agree that the intro is great! It was what i most enjoyed about PRC.

        • Me, too.

          But Evans’s making Anderson the poster child for the dream was tantamount to hitching a one-wheeled wagon to a star. Anderson dipped a big toe into the bilge of life, but his writing defaulted to PC priggery. He was happy to hang scarlet letters around the necks of fallen women, and to manipulate plots to suit himself and truckle to the squeamish who surrounded him. On top of that, we got the Strunk & White reductionists, who sucked the life out of language. The LDS-Lit Lite that became the standard is what has prodded some of us good Mormon writers to push the envelope with potty-mouth dialogue, graphic sex and violence, in order to take back the turf for truth. Unfortunately, being “too Mormon for the world and too worldly for the Mormons” (thanks, Chris Bigelow!) means that nobody on either side of the Continental Divide will touch our books with a bargepole. We still can’t live wholly by our pens, and the sweat of our brains we must wring out to fill our empty cups.

          • Scott Hales says:

            Is it fair to say that Anderson is just as harsh on fallen men? He’s brutal to intemperate and unchaste men in Romance of a Missionary and Dorian and some of his short stories.

            He also has some very good repentance stories that don’t fall prey to the “chewed gum” mentality that we sometimes find in Mormon discourse.

            Anderson’s approach to sexuality is problematic and hardly consistent. At times, he comes down hard on sexual transgressors, and other times he’s shows significant grace towards such characters–such as Chester’s father at the end of SCL. It seems Anderson struggled to find the right balance between preaching chastity and preaching repentance and complete forgiveness for sexual transgressors. It almost seems at times that he was worried about sending the wrong message–which, to be honest, has always been a problem in Mormon discourse about sexual sin.

            • I was sticking to the “assigned ” reading: PRC and SCL. Evans’s Introductory was attached to, and referred to, PRC. As you noted, Anderson did not hang a scarlet letter around the neck of Chester’s father in SCL; he only did it to Anna, in PRC. Whatever approach Anderson chose to take towards sexual sin by either sex in other works is interesting, but, unfortunately, not applicable to my point.

              • Th. says:

                .

                I’m skeptical that Anna was treated worse than ole Brother Strong. How do you arrive at that conclusion? Because we see her die?

                Dying is not always a punishment in Anderson’s work.

    • Sarah Reed says:

      I wanted to respond to your first point about the subtitle. I looked up the serialization of the novel in “Juvenile Instructor” and it already had the subtitle there (and some cool illustrations!). I wonder if it was to mark it more clearly as fiction since the magazine carried multiple genres?

      I also loved the introduction.

      And regarding your third point, it seems Anderson is big on respecting your elders, but also admits that the older generation can be wrong.

  4. Nephi Anderson impales “Piney Ridge Cottage” (PRC) and “The Story of Chester Lawrence” (SCL) on the horns of a dilemma faced by many novelists (especially LDS writers): Should legitimate fiction reflect the ideal or the real?

    “Novel” derives from the Latin “novo” (new). A novel is a form of fiction that presents a new take on an old problem: the “human condition,” particularly the process by which, and the degree to which, a character becomes a new, and usually better, person. This transformation is measured by changes in personality and/or motivation, and the character who changes the most is the true hero or heroine of the story.

    According to the subtitle of PRC, Julia is the subject of the story, but that does not make her the true heroine. Her motivation changes, but her personality stays the same. Glen Curtis does not change in either his personality or his motivation. Chester Lawrence changes both his personality and his motivation, making him the true hero of the novel.

    In PRC, the hero gets the shaft. To draw the sting of this injustice, various “plants” are inserted in the attempt to discredit Chester, and to make Glen Curtis look better than he really is; moreover, a dramatic deus ex machina event is imposed in an effort to shield Julia from the wrath of the reader, because she takes the decision to reject Chester’s suit and choose Glen (who demonstrates no quality that recommends him as a husband, but who providentially acquires the gloss of a future returned missionary).

    Strictly speaking, SCL is not a novel in its own right, because it merely continues striving to justify the premise of PRC. Its writing relies on several deus ex machina solutions to the problem of its author’s having previously decided the dilemma in favor of the ideal (in this case, that good Mormon girls listen to their dads and only marry RMs) rather than the real (that as far as born-LDS and converts are concerned, God is no respecter of persons, and so neither should Mormon young women and their fathers be).

    After all, Glen could have come home from his mission, married any other good coreligionist girl and extended the line of an already faithful family. On the other hand, Julia not only decides against marrying Chester, but also she spurns the opportunity to establish with him a new line of LDS posterity.

    Functioning as a bid to sanitize and confirm this decision, SCL only succeeds in compounding the tragedy of PRC. Naming a new baby for the fallen hero in no way compensates for wasting life and jeopardizing eternal potential.

    The ultimate outcome of Anderson’s fateful decision, is that Mormon authors who fail to adhere to the ideal are simultaneously shunned by LDS publishers and readers for selling out to Satan, and anathematized by mainstream publishers and readers who tar them with the brush of proselytizing (no matter whether these authors reject the ideal outright or simply endeavor to achieve some degree of realism in their work).

    Thus, the literary “canonization” of Anderson (ostensibly by virtue of his book “Added Upon,” but in the century since the publication of PRC and SCL, their influence cannot be discounted) emerges as the genesis of a doctrinaire LDS publishing establishment, as well as of the difficulty encountered by more realistic Mormon authors in getting a fair hearing in either the LDS-Lit niche or the mainstream fiction arena.

    • Th. says:

      .

      I’m still not sure “deus ex machina” is the right term. I can’t immediately recall anyone using the term to describe Dickens and Anderson’s use of coincidence etc seems very much in the dickensian tradition.

      I’ll try to write more later though I may not have a chance till after the weekend. I’m not ignoring anyone!

      • It’s a coincidence if it gets the character into trouble or otherwise makes the situation worse. It’s deus ex machina if it’s meant to get the character out of trouble or otherwise make things all better. But better for whom?

        Problems that need deus ex machina solutions are really writers’ problems. A writer gets impatient or gives up, or tries to justify a forced outcome, as Anderson did by injecting Anna into PRC, and what he did throughout SCL.

        This is often what happens when the writer tries to make a story fit a plot, instead of letting situations work themselves out. To summarize Stephen King (“On Writing”), plot is to situation as jackhammer is to dental pick.

        • Th. says:

          .

          What outcome did Anna force that’s so upsetting? Anna’s insertion is coincidence. No coincidence gets her out of the situation. I don’t follow you.

          • The story problem to be solved belongs to Julia, not to Anna: As far as Anna is concerned, Julia is still “Chester’s girl.” Anderson is the one who forces the outcome by jackhammering the story to fit a plot: “good Mormon girl obeys her father and decides that she loves and will marry the RM her father endorses.” He employs Anna’s improbable advent to justify Julia’s reprehensible conduct in repudiating her role in Chester’s life.

            As another blogger has posted, the reader is rooting for the new convert, but despite Anderson’s having set up Chester as the true hero, the author decides to have none of him. In mid-stream, he changes Julia’s story problem from “the love story of a ‘Mormon’ country girl” to the insipid account of a spineless Mormon female in thrall to her father and her faith. Consequently, the reader loses all respect for her, and by extension, any respect for the “Mormon Church.”

            Anderson, ostensibly a defender of the faith, now has a dreadful writer’s problem. He plants a number of ploys to undermine Chester and bolster Glen, but they are ineffective at disaffecting the reader’s support for the hero. Ultimately, the writer falls back on the deus ex machina to solve his problem: He drops Anna and her fatal spinal cord injury on Julia’s doorstep in the attempt to recover the reader’s respect. The deus ex machina is intended to garner the reader’s blessing on Julia’s choice, by showcasing the compassionate womanly qualities she demonstrates in her loving care of the mother of the man she spurns.

            In other words, Anna is the god from the machine who enables Julia’s choice to marry Glen, by absolving the young woman for her rejection of the man she ought to have chosen instead.

            One more thought:

            Because PRC arbitrarily imposes a specific “happily ever after” outcome that conforms to “ideal” behavior for young Mormon women (thus insulting the reader’s intelligence and literary intuition), it is nothing more than propaganda that backfires badly: It exposes a two-tiered religious community that is false to its foundation, in its willingness to disqualify a heroic convert from joining its gene pool. To “canonize” such a screed is to effectively exclude realistic Mormon writers from joining the gene pool of LDS literature.

            • Scott Hales says:

              You write: “To “canonize” such a screed is to effectively exclude realistic Mormon writers from joining the gene pool of LDS literature.”

              Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we canonize Anderson’s work and “realistic” Mormon works at the same time? It seems silly to me that we have to be one way or the other–especially since “realistic” Mormon writers owe more to Anderson than most are willing to admit. They have so much in common.

              Do you fault Anderson because he wasn’t a realist in the vein of Henry James? Anderson would be the first to admit that he privileged message over a kind of objectivist realism–and I think it’s wrong (and kind of silly) to hold him up to a standard that he never aimed to meet. Anderson wrote to preach in an artistic way. He wasn’t Henry James by any stretch of the imagination, but he grappled with big ideas and earnestly believed that Mormonism could resolve them–either in this life or the next. Again, can we fault him to being true to his beliefs–especially when did so while critiquing the faults of his Mormon culture. I mean, his critique of class inequality and worldly Mormon in PRC is significant, I think, and not unlike what a lot of “realistic” Mormon writers are doing today. (I’m thinking about Douglas Thayer, for example.)

              Furthermore, I think that while the depiction of women in his novels is not always spotless–he has a tendency, for example, to romanticize sickly women–some of his best female characters, including Julia, are more empowered that one would expect in a Mormon novel from the early twentieth century. To cast Julia’s decision to choose Glen over Chester as a result of her capitulating to her father’s and church’s wishes is facile. Her decision comes after she seeks and received personal revelation on the matter. I find the scene very fascinating: Chester comes to her, strongly implying that it is God’s will that she marry him, and she rejects him because the spirit tells her Chester’s not the one. And she sticks to it–even after Chester pressures her even more forcibly. Personally, I think we need to recognize that Julia is hardly a puppet figure. She’s empowered through personal revelation gained through her own efforts.

              • I was responding to the question, “The relevance of these novels today. (Should they be canonical the way Added Upon is canonical?)”. My answer was “No.” Now it appears that I gave the “wrong” answer.

                I also did not say it had to be one or the other. But to “canonize” PRC and SCL would be to do just that. To canonize is to render someone or something sacred, holy, and authoritative, conferring the validity of canon law. Is this how we should dignify fiction that not only sends the message, “Stick to your own kind,” but also does it in a manner that discredits the Church? To make PRC and SCL part of the LDS literary canon would be to say, “Thus shalt thou write, and in no other manner.” Where does that leave realistic Mormon writers? Dropping their frozen toes in snow drifts beside their handcarts, because nobody is willing to bring them in to Salt Lake City.

                Furthermore, I did not fault Anderson for not being Henry James, nor did I “hold him up to a standard that he never aimed to meet.” What I brought to the discussion was Anderson’s facile use of deus ex machina to solve his plot problems. This included his relegation of Almighty God to that role, in the matter of Julia’s reception of “revelation” (after she’d already been amply apprised as to which way the wind blew, and that it was against Chester), to which I referred, albeit obliquely, back in my early response to Sarah. I have already dealt with many of the futile ways in which Anderson tries to smear Chester’s character, which also includes the author’s ratcheting up of his importunities that Julia marry him. Once Anderson had turned against him, Chester was doomed.

                Finally, what has been “wrong (and kind of silly)” about this exercise has been the facile way that two of the parties to the discussion have resorted to ad hominem attacks upon the third party, who scrupulously restricted her arguments to a civilized critique of the performance of a deceased writer. Even had she chosen to adopt the other parties’ style, it is worth remembering that it is impossible to libel, slander or defame the dead.

    • Scott Hales says:

      Also:

      “Novel” derives from the Latin “novo” (new). A novel is a form of fiction that presents a new take on an old problem: the “human condition,” particularly the process by which, and the degree to which, a character becomes a new, and usually better, person. This transformation is measured by changes in personality and/or motivation, and the character who changes the most is the true hero or heroine of the story.

      This seems like a rather narrow definition of the novel–one that would discount a lot of respected novels written since the end of World War II.

      • The given definition is a generalization, but one that’s germane to the current discussion. There are far too many genres in fiction to enumerate all the shades of gray that one can find on all the shelves of novels, and to attempt to do so here (in the spirit of equal opportunity?) would be to cloud the issue at hand. I was sticking to the topic.

  5. A few more observations:

    • Anderson’s biting satire of Salt Lake City Mormons in PRC. (Is it satire?)
    I can’t say how genuinely satirical it was, but it would have been a safe way to curry favor with non-LDS critics.

    • The racy(?) backstories involving polygamy and illicit sex.
    By the time PRC was published, it had been more than twenty years since the Manifesto officially abolished polygamy, but only five years since the four-year brouhaha over Senator Smoot had been settled. Anderson might have been working under the constraint (self-imposed or otherwise, it makes no difference) that “we don’t do this any more, so don’t get us into trouble with it.” He set up the plural marriage to follow (after a very decent interval) the first wife’s abandonment of her husband. This put Elston on the moral high ground. No divorce is referred to, but at the time specified, polygamy was still technically legal in the Church, so Elston was free to contract a second legal marriage, which resulted in the birth of Julia: all nice and legitimate.

    Elston’s polygamy also benefits from Anna Lawrence’s sexual pecadillo. When Elston learns about Chester’s illigitimate birth, he “forgives” Anna (even though she had not sinned against him), which puts her in the wrong from the get-go. The reader is thus conditioned to think ill of her because of her past, and to easily condemn her for subsequently treating her magnanimous husband so shabbily. Finally, only Elston’s testimony of those long-past events is provided. Anna is not given a chance to defend herself, but only engages in a deathbed reconciliation with Julia’s father.

    • 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?)
    This is just one of the ways Anderson tries to tarnish the reader’s sympathy for Chester (q.v.).

    • 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?)
    Why focus on Chester Lawrence? Because he was vastly superior to the immature Glen Curtis, but it was politically incorrect for Julia to marry Chester. Glen, on the other hand, despite Elston’s and other people’s indulgent favoritism (“Oh, he’s just so sensitive!”), had to be sent away on a mission before he could possibly look good enough to the reader to justify Julia’s marrying him. This was an inconvenient truth that was well-nigh impossible to overcome, because Chester was such a lovable and worthy character. Eventually Anderson must have realized that the only way to put paid to the reader’s romance with Chester was to kill him off.

    • Glenn vs. Chester: How Mormon do you need to be to marry a Mormon heroine?
    You at least must be an RM, no matter how otherwise immature and hypersensitive you are.

    • Julia Elston as a Modern Mormon Woman of 1912.
    Anderson went to a lot of trouble to portray Julia as a reasonably intelligent, well-read young woman who had assimilated modern American culture (“See? She’s free to read mainstream novels and the ‘Ladies’ Home Journal’!”) But when push came to shove, he had her saying things on the order of the “My lil’ ol’ brain would bust!” sort that Margaret Mitchell’s character Scarlett O’Hara privately denigrated as “demure, scatterbrained and pliable.” And while Julia’s father may have given her free reign with her reading material, he was quick to reposition her under his thumb when it came to choosing a husband. Father knows best, ya know.

    • The Story of Chester Lawrence as a response to the Titanic tragedy. (How do you respond to the ending of SCL?)
    Anderson had drawn Chester so finely that you can almost feel his reluctance to dismiss him, in the awkward ways he tries to discredit Chester before he finally resorts to doing him in. The best available demise in 1913 was one that paralleled the Titanic disaster, but if Anderson had held off writing SCL until 1917, he could have much more plausibly sent Chester to the Western Front.

    • Th. says:

      .

      I’ll let most of these things stand, but I cannot accept two notions.

      First that Julia did not choose her own husband. Read her interactions with her father again. He only encourages her to do what he thinks is right. He is never unkind to Chester to his face or behind his back.

      (I don’t disagree that Glen could have been better drawn, but there’s sufficient to demonstrate that he and Julia have a long history together. We don’t know the depths of Julia’s emotions for him, but we sound her feelings for Chester adequately enough to know she should not marry him. I’m uncertain why you think that Chester looking like a protagonist means he should get the girl.)

      Second that Anderson is discrediting Chester. He isn’t. He never does. Even by your proposed standard of missionary work making the man, he looks fine. I honestly have no idea what you mean by “the awkward ways [Anderson] tries to discredit Chester before he finally resorts to doing him in.” Over the course of SCL Chester loses more and more of his faults. It’s a story of his growth and development. Making a character imperfect is not doing him dirt, it’s making him more believable. I’m confused why you think any of Anderson’s characters that may be less than perfect are being presented as despicable. Is it something in the novel’s tone?

  6. A Dozen Subliminal Disqualifications for Chester Lawrence:
    1. His illegitimacy (being a bastard was no social picnic anywhere in early 20th-century America), and his doctrinally dodgy female antecedent. Unspoken message: “What good Mormon girl would marry a man about whose father little or nothing certain is known, and whose mother is a faithless trollop who abandoned her husband and left the Church?”
    2. He is suspected of having joined the Church for a reason that doesn’t bear close inspection. Unspoken message: “He’s just a social convert.”
    3. It doesn’t matter how much he changes for the better and shows his maturity: Unspoken message: “Sorry, but he’s not an RM.”
    4. After being scrupulously faithful about writing to his mother, he suddenly goes incommunicado. Unspoken message: “How unfeeling and unfilial!”
    5. He wanders aimlessly around the continent with no visible means of support. Unspoken message: “How suspect is that?”
    6. When he returns to his home in Chicago, he just assumes that his mother has gone to visit her connections in Michigan, without doing anything to check up on her, although previously he had observed her to be failing in health and motivation. Unspoken message: “Look how careless and neglectful he really is!”
    7. He takes off again without leaving any forwarding address. Unspoken message: “How irresponsible!”
    8. After previously detesting his unknown father because of the man’s immorality, after he meets him, he forgives him, even though the man persists in being the most evil of unbelievers: a sectarian preacher-man. Unspoken message: “Just like that! How inconsistent! Doubtless his commitment to chastity and other gospel principles is just as fragile.”
    9. He falls in love with someone else right away. Unspoken message: “He easily forgets about Julia, so he doesn’t really love her. What a rake.”
    10. He stays in love with this new skirt after it initially seems that they are half-siblings. Unspoken message: “Yuck! He’s an incestuous pervert!”
    11. It doesn’t matter when it is revealed that he is not related by blood to his new squeeze, after all. Unspoken message: “Well, she’s not LDS, so what does that say about the fundamental shallowness of his testimony?”
    12. There’s only one way he can be allowed to show his sincerity, love and faith. Unspoken message: “He has to go down with the ship. Too bad, how sad.”

    • Th. says:

      .

      A Dozen Subliminal Qualifications for Chester Lawrence:

      1. His illegitimacy (being a bastard was no social picnic anywhere in early 20th-century America), and his doctrinally dodgy female antecedent. Unspoken message: “How wonderful that the Elson’s can see him for who he is rather than how shallow people might judge him!”

      2. He is suspected of having joined the Church for a reason that doesn’t bear close inspection. Unspoken message: “Can’t wait to watch him continue to prove himself.”

      3. It doesn’t matter how much he changes for the better and shows his maturity: Unspoken message: “We will never be perfect in this life, but look how Chester keeps striving and succeeding to improve.”

      4. After being scrupulously faithful about writing to his mother, he suddenly goes incommunicado. Unspoken message: “Even the best of us are not our best selves when our hearts are broken. My own heart goes to Chester—not only is he sad now, but imagine how he’ll feel when he learns about his mother!”

      5. He wanders aimlessly around the continent with no visible means of support. Unspoken message: “Man, those were the days. Can’t get away with that now. Ah, to be young and male in the nineteen-teens!”

      6. When he returns to his home in Chicago, he just assumes that his mother has gone to visit her connections in Michigan, without doing anything to check up on her, although previously he had observed her to be failing in health and motivation. Unspoken message: “You never know when what seems obvious will prove to be wrong. We must all take care and keep in close contact with our loved ones! Too bad Chester will be learning this lesson the hard way.”

      7. He takes off again without leaving any forwarding address. Unspoken message: “We’ve all wanted to run away. Pity Chester followed that impulse at just the wrong time.”

      8. After previously detesting his unknown father because of the man’s immorality, after he meets him, he forgives him, even though the man persists in being the most evil of unbelievers: a sectarian preacher-man. Unspoken message: “Astonishing how charitable Chester is! Of course, it’s always easier to hate a faceless enemy. Once Chester meets the man he’s always hated, his empathy—his better nature—his Christlike virtues win out.”

      9. He falls in love with someone else right away. Unspoken message: “Heh. I remember being that age. You think you’ll be moping forever, but the body and soul are pretty resilient. Just add one pretty girl. I’m not proud, but I suppose we’ve all done something similar.”

      10. He stays in love with this new skirt after it initially seems that they are half-siblings. Unspoken message: “Chester, you crazy! Unless….could it be? Could Chester’s spiritual sensitivity be leading him to truth even as his superego is telling him to stay the heck away?”

      11. It doesn’t matter when it is revealed that he is not related by blood to his new squeeze, after all. Unspoken message: “Huh? What does number eleven even mean?” [Note: the original unspoken message suggested that her not being LDS makes her an unsuitable choice and a sign of the shallowness of Chester's faith. Besides the fact that this argument does not represent what happens in the novel, it does not clearly related to the proposed dis-qualification.]

      12. There’s only one way he can be allowed to show his sincerity, love and faith. Unspoken message: “Dying for truth has long been the noblest way to show one’s convictions. Not quite sure how that’s happening here though. Chester dies saved, but I don’t see how that turns him into a poor excuse for a Christ figure.”

  7. Jonathan Langford says:

    MODERATOR MESSAGE: I’m going to turn off comments on this post for a day to let everyone cool down. Will turn them back on for Labor Day.

    Overall, I think this has been a good conversation, with intense views expressed. However, I think the level of intensity has gotten a little too high on *all* sides. I haven’t seen anything I view as an ad hominem attack, but I have seen some rhetoric (again, on *all* sides) that isn’t careful enough to recognize the validity of alternative points of view. Hence (in my view) the need for a temporary timeout.

    If anyone wants to write me privately about this, my email is jonathan AT langfordwriter DOT com.

  8. Th. says:

    .

    I thought for sure I was going to finish CL today. But the battery on my Nook died. That battery, I’m discovering, has serious issues.

  9. Th. says:

    .

    I’ve now read four Nephi Anderson books. The first was astonishingly ambitious if ultimately not that great. The second was great. The third was Piney Ridge Cottage which I enjoyed immensely and I think should never have been forgotten—it could easily have become the LDS Little Women—and the fourth was Chester Lawrence.

    Chester, I’m afraid to say, is not as good as Piney Ridge. It felt like to me that Anderson was rushing to get his outline down and on paper and printed. Which is a shame because I think it had the potential to be every bit as good as its predecessor. The crazy mindbogglingly insane development of the plot finds a reasonable and rational solution. The plot nicely parallels the first novel without aping it. The characters all have moments of deep reality. But, overall, the book’s a rush job. Underwritten. And although this wouldn’t have been a complaint at the time, I thought the tourist-guide moments were too frequent and too infrequently used for thematic effect.

    All in all, not a bad book, but nowhere near PRC in quality.

    Here’s an observation I made though: that final chapter? It’s not an epilogue is the title is referring to the baby.

    Your welcome for BLOWING YOUR MIND.

    Now I’m off to reread the post and comments more carefully to catch all the things I was avoiding before finishing novel #2.

  10. Th. says:

    .

    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?)

    I was wondering as I read that portion this morning whether it came out before or after Titanic. In fact, Titanic would have been very fresh in the minds of Anderson’s readers. I would love to know what they thought of it. Scott—have you ran across any contemporary reviews?

    As for a comparison to Added Upon, its been a while since I’ve read it, but I still connected them immediately in my mind when the ship sunk. (The blatant bit of foreshadowing earlier is what really threw me though—and I think her death in particular could have been handled better; see my rushed-writing point earlier.) That said, Added Upon’s sudden death stunned me more and even hurt me more, I think, even though that novel then took us straight to the afterlife. The more subtle handing of SCL is better I think even though the slapdashery of the tragedy certainly left something to be desired.

    Even so, If I were ever to republish PRC, I would publish SCL alongside it:

    NEPHI ANDERSON’s
    MASTERPIECE
    &
    its pretty okay sequel
    NOW
    in ONE volume
    for the first time

    Something like that.

    • Scott Hales says:

      I think the single-volume Piney Ridge Saga would be a good follow-up project to Dorian.

      I haven’t come across Anderson’s reactions to the Titanic tragedy, but the news captivated the nation and certainly would have interested Anderson, who had made the trans-Atlantic crossing a number of times–and even experienced a false alarm at one point when he thought his ship was going down.

      I think you are absolutely right about the rushed feel of SCL. Much of the tourist-guide moments are lifted verbatim or near-verbatim from his second missionary journal. I get the sense that he wanted to get the story published quickly because PRC was then part of the MIA reading curriculum and he wanted to capitalize on that. I too wish he had taken the time to craft SCL that he seems to have taken with PRC.

      I felt that Chester’s death reflects a bit Anderson’s development as a writer. Death still becomes a sermon, but it’s more of a suggested sermon than what we get in Added Upon. True, you get the image of he and Lucy sailing in peaceful waters towards heaven, but you also get this:

      “Chester was alone, and in those few minutes the wonderful panorama of life passed before him. He lived in periods, each period ending with Lucy Strong. His boyhood, and his awakening to the world about him—then Lucy; his schooldays, with boys and girls—out from them came Lucy; his early manhood, his forming ideals—completed in Lucy; his experiences in the West, and at Piney Ridge Cottage, and then came, not Julia, but Lucy; then the gospel with its new light and assurance of salvation; and this coupled with Lucy, her faith and love, burned as a sweet incense in the soul of Chester Lawrence. Fear left him now. He heard sounds as if they were songs from distant angel-choirs. Words of comfort and strength were whispered to his heart: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art near me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me….” Eternity! Why, an immortal soul is always in eternity; and God is always at hand in life or in death…. Death! what is it but the passing to the other side of a curtain, where our loved ones are waiting to meet and greet us!

      “Chester stepped back to Lucy. It was dark where she lay, but he passed his hand over her form to her face, touching tenderly her cheek and closed eyes. The flesh was not yet cold, but he felt that the soul whom he had come to know as Lucy Strong was not there.

      “Captain Brown called through the darkness. Chester groped into the open again. Was that the captain’s figure on the bridge, looming black against the faint light in the eastern sky? If it was, Chester was in no condition to know, for just then there came a great sinking. A roar of waters sounded in his ears, there was a struggle, a moment of agony, and then the darkness of oblivion.”

      I like how Anderson has Chester face death–the aloneness, the loss of Lucy, the struggle, the agony, the “darkness of oblivion”–first before he gets his eternal reward. I also think that first passage–where Chester reviews his life–is very moving, particularly in the way it brings in Lucy. It’s sentimental, yes, but it makes the paragraph that follows, when he realizes Lucy is no long with him, powerful to me.

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