“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.

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