“Why Are there Classes among Members of Our Church?”: Anderson’s Economics of Mormonism in Transition by Sarah C. Reed


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.


The publication of Nephi Anderson’s last novel, Dorian, in 1921, came near the end of an era of Mormon history marked by a number of dramatic changes. During the 50 years from 1880 to 1930, the Mormon Church abandoned

many of its idiosyncratic practices: polygamy was officially ended, the LDS political party disbanded, communitarian economics de-emphasized. At the same time, it increasingly participated in American politics and culture: Mormons sent a delegation to the 1893 World’s Fair, Utah gained statehood in 1896, Reed Smoot weathered the congressional hearings regarding his election and was finally seated in the Senate in 1907. This process has been called “Americanization” or even “assimilation” because of the way the Mormon cultural region (to borrow Ethan Yorgason’s term) came to conform to hegemonic economic, political, and social norms; nevertheless, the integration of the region into America was not an unequivocal development. Mormonism’s doctrines and narrative had to be reinterpreted to harmonize the change from a separatist society to one accommodating the dominant cultural conventions….

As Mormonism shifted from communalism to capitalism, the individual began to displace the community in the building of Zion. The emphasis on self-sufficiency moved from a community effort to the onus of individuals. Even so, vestiges of the older model remained in the discourse. For example, apostle Anthon H. Lund was himself a Danish immigrant and was sympathetic to the difficulties that other immigrant converts faced. In various conference talks he reminded the saints of their responsibilities in helping these new members integrate into the community. Similarly, Andrew Jenson, assistant church historian and also a Danish immigrant, continued to speak about the gathering and praised the Mormon communities and warned against their dissolution, even as other leaders de-emphasized this model. Uncle Zed’s immigrant background fits in with this perspective; for him, communitarianism wasn’t just an economic model, but had a theological implication. In one of their theological talks, Uncle Zed explains to Dorian his idea of salvation, blending together science, religion, and economy. Christ works for those of us below him who can’t get there “by self-effort alone,” that “the great error” of evolutionists is that “higher forms evolve from the initial and unaided movements of the lower,” which “is as impossible as that a man can lift himself to the skies by his boot-straps” (122 – 123). In working out individual salvation, Uncle Zed gives three principles: 1) the individual must be willing to progress; 2) he must be willing to accept help; and 3) he must be willing to “share all good with others” (125). Uncle Zed goes on to expound on the third principle: “Coming back now to the application I mentioned. If it is God’s work and glory to labor for those below Him, why should not we, His sons and daughters, follow His example as far as possible in our sphere of action? If we are ever to become like Him we must follow in His steps and do the things which He has done. Our work, also must be to help along the road to salvation those who are lower down, those who are more ignorant and are weaker than we” (124 – 125).

“The Dead Virgin and the Accidental Whore” by A. Arwen Taylor


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.


The history of men writing women shows an established tendency to corral female characters to one side of a sexual dichotomy, such that they embody one of two tropes, the angel or the whore. These polarized figures represent men’s response to the masculine perception of women’s sexuality, which means that women are defined according to their (apparent) sexual availability, both to the male from whose perspective we’re currently gazing, and to men in general. Thus we have Eve and Mary (the seductress who lures man into sexual knowingness, and the virgin so pure she gives birth without having sex); Veronica and Betty (the sexy shopaholic who dates widely, and the wholesome, loyal girl next door); the White Swan and the Black Swan; Arabella Donn and Sue Bridehead; Helen Ramirez and Amy Fowler; the list goes on. The angelic woman is pure, good, modest, faithful, and, most critically, sexually restrained, while the whore character tends to be voluptuous, exotic, irresistible, and sexually flagrant. The male protagonist’s desire is fraught as he navigates between these two types: the sexually available woman can never belong exclusively to him, and the woman who can be his exclusively is by nature non-sexual—or worse, if she is convinced to have sex, then she will no longer be the virginal ideal worthy of his desire. Stories that rely on the tension between angel and whore tend most often to show the male protagonist seduced by the latter but desiring the former; the allure of the whore is only a distraction from his pursuit and eventual conquest of the angel….

Mildred’s fate reverberates remarkably with Snow White’s. As she is dying, her room is evacuated of books and artistic materials, and her speech is reduced to a single sentence; the last time Dorian sees her, he finds her “thinner and paler than ever, eyes bigger, hair heavier and more golden,” and Dorian is able to enjoy looking on her “angel-face,” now “marble-like” (63 – 64). Stripped of her trappings of culture, she is reduced to a body to be admired. Dorian does not visit her again, not even when he learns that the crisis has come and she is on the verge of death. Instead he lingers outside her home until someone comes out and tells him that she has died. Then, “He felt the night wind blow cold down the street, and he saw the storm clouds scuttling along the distant sky. In the deep blue directly above him a star shone brightly, but it only reminded him of what Uncle Zed had said about hitching to a star; yes, but what if the star had suddenly been taken from the sky!” (66). At the critical moment of pathos, Mildred, who has been curiously absent from her own death scene, is projected as a star—beautiful but utterly out of reach, high above the world; incorporeal for all intents and purposes, and even more so now that she is “taken from the sky.”

“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


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.


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.

“Integrating the “Best Books”: Interwar Intellectualism and Extratextuality in Nephi Anderson’s Dorian” by Mason Allred


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.


The twentieth century began with Mormonism being forced into the limelight. With the problematic appointment of Reed Smoot as the first Mormon senator, the stage was set for a reexamination of “this most strange and peculiar faith” (qtd. in Flake 100). How, if at all, did Mormons fit into the nation and world at large? As if striking the tuning fork of assimilation and listening for resonance in Mormon thought, a generation of academically trained leaders of the Church also set their minds to work out the place of Mormon thought within a wider intellectual framework. The first few decades of the twentieth century bear this significant trend of intellectually and culturally locating Mormonism within a broader context. Major figures forming a constellation around this drive to integrate, or even circumscribe, Mormonism include John A. Widtsoe, James E. Talmage, and B.H. Roberts, among others. Their influential work engendered a new rationality in Mormon intellectual history, which can be characterized by an increased awareness of secular knowledge and a sustained effort to reconcile such with Mormon faith-based knowledge….

This modern notion of navigating the world outside oneself is evidenced in Dorian’s consumer trips to the city. It is perhaps appropriate that the novel opens with Dorian strolling the city streets, as a flaneur of sorts. Dorian is flaneur-like in his consumption of books and candy and in his detached stance to the city and its pleasures. However, unlike the flaneur roaming the city in Baudelaire, Benjamin, or Poe (Benjamin 79), Dorian’s experience with the material reality of modernity often underscores his ignorance and asserts his solitude. Yet, despite his lack of knowledge about automobiles and moving picture shows, Dorian is connected to a broader world through the “imagined communities” of established readership (Anderson, B. 25). Selectively partaking of the city, yet remaining distinctly separate is the modus operandi of Dorian and Dorian. They both pick and choose of the best texts to “use” in their construction of self.

“Critical Analysis of Dorian: Nephi Anderson’s Dorian and the Project of Twentieth-Century Mormonism” by Scott Hales


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.


At the time of his 6 January 1923 death, Nephi Anderson was the premier man of letters in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His friend, Church President Heber J. Grant, credited his writing for making “a financial success” of one of the Church’s official magazines, the Improvement Era, which had published Anderson’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for more than twenty years. Indeed, three months before his death, Anderson received an admiring letter from Grant telling him “that there are few, if any, of the writers to the Improvement Era that I feel more grateful to than your dear self for the many contributions which you have made to our splendid little magazine” (Grant). This praise was echoed in Anderson’s two-page obituary in the Improvement Era which called him “a gifted writer of fiction” who “always provided clean stories permeated by the spirit of the gospel” (“Nephi Anderson” 373 – 375). Another obituary, published on the front page of the Box Elder News, claimed that Anderson’s novel Added Upon had been “read by almost every person in the state” of Utah (“Called by Death” 1)….

Cracroft’s positive appraisal of Dorian is a welcome reprieve from the criticisms of Anderson’s detractors, yet his lamentation for what might have been distracts in some ways from what the novel was and continues to be for Latter-day Saints and their fiction. Reading it today, nearly one hundred years later, it is easy to see that Dorian was not only a generally successful aesthetic production and a milestone in Mormon literary realism, but also a statement of identity for Mormons in the early twentieth century, particularly young Mormons whose task it was to take the Church into the future. As one reviewer pointed out in the January 1922 issue of the Improvement Era, the novel provided “boys and girls” with “a class of reading which [aimed] to teach the way of righteousness in attractive story form” (“Editor’s Table” 361). Its Horatian mixture of entertainment and instruction, in other words, could serve as a vehicle for shaping Mormon character, clarifying cultural boundaries, and teaching correct gospel principles. To a Mormon community still in the process of steadying itself from the institutional trauma of the Woodruff Manifesto, the 1890 edict that signaled the beginning of the end of the group-defining practice of Mormon polygamy, Dorian served as a kind of guidebook for performing twentieth-century Mormon identity.

overdue but coming this month


Apologies for the broken promises, but both the print and ebook versions of Dorian are now READY TO GO and just waiting the new drop date of MARCH 31.

That’s very soon.

B&N has the correct date.

Though Amazon has the book as well has it listed, those editions are not this one. The annotated version will reflect correctly on or about March 31, 2015.


Tomato, tomahto

Cute bunnies make everything better.
Cute bunnies make everything better.

by Moriah Jovan

This is a comment I posted over on A Motley Vision (AMV) on a post referencing two posts on Association for Mormon Letters’s (AML) blog.

It began when I objected to the use of the word “serious” to describe what literary works AML should be focusing on. It led to “interesting,” which led to “literary” used in terms of quality. That’s where I stepped in.

My argument is that “serious” literature means something entirely different in #MormonLit than it does outside our little niche, precisely because of its Mormonness.

I’m the one who objected to “serious” on Twitter, but not in an angry way. I made the observation that it’s divisive and inflammatory, possibly infantilizing.

This is where I think we are with regard to #MormonLit: We, as a culture, have a fraught relationship with light amusement, humor (not to be confused with social fun), and anything that keeps us from putting our shoulder to the wheel and gathering in the harvest. Or, you know, doesn’t fill the last 16 minutes of your day doing your calling.

We’re ALWAYS serious. And we are exhorted to read SERIOUS works, where “serious” = nonfiction, the words of the prophets, scripture (yeah, I put them in that order on purpose), and other things such as those works worthy of being quoted in General Conference.

I mean, look at our church decor. It can’t get any more serious than that. Ditto temple decor: serious elegance.

Nobody is going to call romance “serious,” even when it can be (“issue books” are common). Likewise, it’s literature by and for women, so it’s buried underneath another layer of sludge. Romance from Deseret Books can be called “serious,” however, when the first criterion anybody wants is, “Is it clean?” The second is, “Is it faith-affirming and/or testimony-building?” The third is a critique: “Those characters are too flawed for me. They’re not Good Mormons.” (Where “Good Mormons” is actually a myth.)

The level of “quality” is directly proportional to how clean and kingdom-building and PURE it is.

Those who expect quality of storytelling, engagement, and overall, ENTERTAINMENT to go with their deeper meaning are the ones who left #MormonLit years ago. They don’t expect any better and don’t have time to look for where it might be. Deseret has the lock on the market and, like it or not, they built the reputation of Mormon literature as lacking quality.

In short, in Mormondom, FICTION ITSELF is not serious. In fiction, there are no truths to be gleaned because truth delivered metaphorically isn’t pure.

Let’s come over here to the AML/AMV tent and take my explicit books out of the equation. That leaves what? Characters who struggle with faith. Characters who may or may not stay in the church. They may be very harsh about the church. They may have been created simply as character studies (e.g., Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth). They may, horrors of horrors and the worst crime of all, may remain as ambivalent about the church as they were when the book started. Oh, look. Also overwhelmingly written by men. Where are the women in this equation?

Ohai, Mel. She’s it, fellas. There are other women doing it, but almost none we actually talk about. (Not including myself. I write romance, remember, which is not serious by either measure.)

For those of us over here way left of Deseret, this is our “serious” fiction, and the degree of ambivalence or straying is DIRECTLY proportional to its quality of writing because its metaphor is PURE.

Fine. And then there are the movers and shakers out there who don’t have a place either because they don’t write “serious” literature in either incarnation (clean or ambiguous) and they’re making bank pretty much without Mormon characters and they have no need to discuss any of this.

I propose that, somehow we come up with a moniker to say, “Anything that speaks to me and I need to talk about.” This is where we are.

It’s Official!


The Salt Lake Comic Con will feature a panel on Saturday, April 19, focusing on the Peculiar Pages offering Monsters & Mormons edited by Wm Morris and Theric Jepson.

image by Matt Page
image by Matt Page

Theric will moderate and the panel includes four writers and two illustrators:

Eric James Stone Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author of “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” (and other terrific fictions), and fiction editor at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Jake Parker Creator of Missile Mouse, Kickstarter savant, illustrator of Michael Chabon’s superhero children’s book, the brain behind Inktober, and so many many other brilliant things.

Bryton Sampson Fiction writer and part of the podcast Fight for Comics.

Steven L. Peck Author of the critically acclaimed novels A Short Stay in Hell (being turned into a film by David Spaltro) and The Scholar of Moab. An evolutionary biologist based at BYU.

Matt Page Popular book designer, advertiser, comicser, memer, joker, etc. Quite the local reputation. You may know him as Matsby or one of his other noms de web.

Nathan Shumate Author of several weird fictions, instigator of Space Eldritch, creator of the webcomic Cheap Caffeine, steampunk artist, curator of the popular Lousy Book Covers tumblr, and the B-movie master review of Cold Fusion Media and The Golden Age of Crap.

News on the Dorian project


Peculiar Pages’ edition of Nephi Anderson’s Dorian will be published by the end of 2013.

That’s right: this very year.

To celebrate, please enjoy this list of essays contributed by scholars which will be included in our Peculiar Edition of this classic work:

Mason Allred—Integrating the “Best Books”: Interwar Intellectualism and Extratextuality in Nephi Anderson’s Dorian

Jacob Bender—“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

Scott Hales—Nephi Anderson’s Dorian and the Project of Twentieth-Century Mormonism

Blair Dee Hodges—“Harmonizing Mormonism and Science ‘in the valley of sunshine and shadow’”

Sarah Reed—“Why are there classes among members of our Church?”: Anderson’s Economics of Mormonism in Transition

A. Arwen Taylor—The Dead Virgin and the Accidental Whore

Not to mention notes on the text and two essays from Anderson himself!

This is going to be a terrific book. Whether you already know and love Dorian or it’s something you’re about to experience for the first time, this edition has been worth the wait.

And just in time for a new year of reading!

One of Mormonism’s greatest novelists reviews Mormonism’s greatest poetry collection


Angela Hallstrom has reviewed Fire in the Pasture for BYU Studies. Consider this sentence:

For those who erroneously believe that LDS poetry is primarily comprised of sentimental rhymed verses or charming couplets, this anthology is proof that the complexity and beauty of Mormon life can, and should, be rendered in powerful, sophisticated poetic expression.