“This Is Not a Photograph: Nephi Anderson’s Dorian as a Sort of LDS Sons and Lovers; or a Portrait of the Mormon Solipsist as a Young Man” by Jacob Bender

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In the lead-up to the March 31 release of our Peculiar Edition of Nephi Anderson’s novel Dorian we will be running a series of posts featuring the first paragraph (and one other paragraph of the editor’s whim) from the essays included in that volume. Come back for more every Tuesday and Thursday.

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The wonder of Nephi Anderson’s Dorian is that it isn’t called Carlia, who is arguably the far more interesting character. In Carlia we have someone straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel, a Mormon Tess of the d’Urbervilles: She is a poor, rural, working-class farm girl forced by poverty and circumstance to forsake any chance of higher learning and a better life, instead to toil obscurely for her broken and indifferent family. She is ignored by her would-be lover and her spirit cracks under the constant grind and toil. In a moment of weakness she is seduced, violated, and disgraced by an unscrupulous interloper. Ashamed, she runs away into even greater penury and misery, her child dies soon after birth, and she is left alone to suffer in the dead of winter. As compared to Dorian, she is the more fascinating, pathos-ridden character, but Anderson didn’t give us Carlia. He gave us Dorian, and hovering around the peripheries of Dorian is a more interesting novel wherein Carlia’s suffering resonates more profoundly and speaks to the human condition more deeply than golden boy Dorian’s good fortune ever does….

Then at the end of chapter four, something remarkable happens: While Stephen ponders whether to become a priest, he stumbles upon a girl walking along the surf of the beach. She barely acknowledges him. This becomes an epiphanic moment in Stephen’s life, for he has beheld the intensity of someone else’s experience—someone living an entire life outside of his own. “Heavenly God!” he cries. He decides to become an artist so as to see, like Meredith, more than is commonly seen. Near the novel’s close, Stephen writes, “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience.” For Joyce, an artist recognizes the intensity of life and experience. Meredith also recognizes life’s intensity through artistic perception. She is in fact training Dorian to look more closely, to experience life more intensely, that is, to think more like an artist—like Stephen Daedalus before him.

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