I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club. Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it.
Those who knock Austen as writing mostly about marriage have missed the point entirely! She was a satirist, sketching the ridiculous characters in her native provincial England. She points out the flaws in a society that reduced women to penury if they didn’t marry well. We could use a little more humor in the weighty Book of Mormon which is too prone to seriousness, religiosity and bloodshed, detailing battles and intrigue but with very little infusion of wit. It’s a straightforward narrative with KJV-esque flourishes of language. If we profess to be people of the book (apparently we sometimes profess this), then we should be able to declare, as does Jane Austen through the character of Caroline Bingley as she yawns and sets aside the book she has been indifferently browsing:
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!”
If Jane Austen had written the Book of Mormon, a few of the familiar stories might have been livened up with some of her witty observations on life and society. For one thing, it could have been called Pride Cycle & Prejudice (h/t to Kevin Barney!) Here are some that seemed particularly on point:
Lehi’s family reflecting on his hasty departure from Jerusalem, resulting in multiple dangerous trips back: “The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.”
On the willingness of the daughters of Ishmael to follow Lehi’s family into the desert: “It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage.”
Laman and Lemuel, consoling themselves: “Those who do not complain are never pitied.”
Sariah, matriarch of Lehi’s troubled brood: “Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.”
Lehi’s justification for the mission to get the plates, as a means of educating future generations: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Nephi, grumbling about having to take the lead for his older brothers: “There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.”
Laman and Lemuel’s constant refrain: “Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.”
About Nephi’s mission back to Jerusalem (slight rewrite): “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of some brass plates. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering Laban’s neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in his mind, that thosebrass plates are considered as his rightful property.”
Nephi’s psalm: “Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
About that King Noah’s priests: “It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”
Abinadi: “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
The converts at the Waters of Mormon: “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
The sons of Mosiah: “Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.”
Amulek as a missionary, talking about the people: “It is very difficult for the prosperous to be humble.”
As for the prideful Zoramites and their prayers at the Rameumptom: “Nobody minds having what is too good for them.”
On the changing skin tone of the Lamanites (slight rewrite needed): “How very ill Elizabeth Bennett looked this evening! She is grown so brown and coarse. Louisa and I were agreeing that we should hardly know her.”
When Jesus’ prayers couldn’t be recorded because they were so beautiful: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”
Captain Moroni, reflecting with satisfaction on his epistle to Pahoran: “A person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill.”
Pahoran upon reading Captain Moroni’s epistle: “Angry people are not always wise.”
Regarding the Gadianton robbers (or the Gladys Kravitz ailment some have noticed in their fellow ward members): “Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.”
Moroni lamenting the behavior of the people: “We do not look in our great cities for our best morality.”
Moroni, after wandering alone for years: “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
It occurred to me that Lehi’s family, comprising 6 named sons (and some unnamed, unnumbered daughters), bears some resemblance to the Bennett family of Pride & Prejudice but with the genders reversed. Laman & Lemuel seem to be cast in the Kitty & Lydia roles, frivolous children who are incapable of taking their duties seriously. Sam is mostly silent but a good guy, a likely candidate for Jane the eldest daughter and reputed beauty. The youngest two, born in the wilderness but also good kids are really an afterthought. Nephi seems an unlikely candidate for Elizabeth Bennett, but with his sermonizing is possibly a Mary Bennett, always eager to display his talents.
He also later exhibits some Fanny Price qualities, the dutiful one who is alas a bit of a killjoy. When his brothers and their wives are whooping it up on the ship, he chastizes them for their coarse behavior (I always imagine armpit farting was involved), very similar to the judgmental attitude Fanny adopts when the rest of the young people decide to put on the play Lovers’ Vows for their own titillation and amusement. While Fanny reluctantly helps the flirtatious Mary Crawford practice her lines, she is proven right as the remaining young people are led astray, Nephi is tied to a mast. There are certainly times in Mansfield Park when the reader would like to tie Fanny to a mast.
Speaking of the mischievous yet enticing Mary Crawford, she’s a fascinating character study who might be a good parallel for the daughter of Jared who came in like a wrecking ball to seduce Akish.
The brother of Jared, for whom everything seems to work out without much effort is like Emma Woodhouse who seems favored of heaven just by birth and yet is very likeable.
Captain Moroni’s hotheaded personality is like that of Marianne Dashwood, always filled with emotion and passion, saying too much rather than repressing anything, and sometimes getting into a scrape due to her inability to filter her feelings. Pahoran is his steadfast foil, Elinor. Alma the Elder is more of a Colonel Brandon type, having been through some difficulties in his youth but coming through with wisdom and forebearance. But hopefully not skeeving on 16 year old girls. Oy!
- Are there any other parallels you see to the people in the Book of Mormon and well known literary figures?
- Do you agree that Gospel Doctrine is like a book club of sorts?
 In which nobody has read the book! I kid. Mostly.