If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

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.[1]  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 & Lemuel

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.”

I don’t like to gossip, but . . .

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.”

Fanny Price, hot for preacher

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?

Discuss.

[1] In which nobody has read the book!  I kid.  Mostly.

**Previously published here.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    Reader, I laughed.

    (Yeah, yeah, Brontë…)

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    A really fun post. Yes, Austen would have definitely been an improvement on BoM prose.

    The post is timely as well, as Love and Friendship (based on her novella Lady Susan) just came out in limited release. I drove to a theater an hour away last Saturday just to be able to see it.

  3. Kristine says:

    This is so great, Angela–I see a sequel in the works for this YSA ward…

  4. Kristine says:

    And yes, Gospel Doctrine (when it goes bad) is like a book club in a lot of ways–it’s mostly group therapy, loosely related to a few passages of barely-considered texts.

  5. A Happy Hubby says:

    It would have made being a missionary a bit easier since I could spend extra time in morning scripture study on the “juicy” parts of the BOM and dream of when I was going to have a HOT wife since I was such a kick-butt missionary (I did get lucky and got a hot wife)

  6. Kristine says:

    “I was going to have a HOT wife since I was such a kick-butt missionary”

    This is a thoroughly disgusting idea and it ought to die as many deaths as necessary immediately. It should, in any case, never appear in BCC comments again. See any of the recent posts on rape culture if you need an explanation. Or just imagine that some missionary is hoping to get your daughter awarded to him as a prize. Or, alternatively, that you happen to have a daughter who is more beautiful on the inside than the outside, so she gets to marry the lazy, selfish RM. Gross.

  7. Best Book of Mormon reboot ever! A++++!!!

  8. A Happy Hubby says:

    Kristine, I am actually in agreement with you and re-reading my post it doesn’t come out and say that I am poking fun at that often heard belief. I (over?) use sarcasm for humor and in print it does not always come across as intended.

    I will mention that I never felt like I was a very good missionary to start with (too many doubts to be “bold”) and I never actually heard that line on my mission.

    I also don’t pay my tithing expecting any blessing from it other than it helps me from being as greedy about money. I am not upset that I still have PLENTY of room for more blessings.

    I am a bit embarrassed to be called out on this and I think if you read my comments on many blogs, you will see this isn’t consistent. I can see it was certainly a time where I should have not made the comment.

    I am fine if Hawkgrrrl or other moderators wish to remove it (or leave my bad call at attempted humor as an example).

    But I will stand by my comment that my wife is hot – the facts are the facts. I guess I am proof the belief isn’t true. Based on my stats I turned in each week (my DL’s and ZL’s were always pushing me to do better) I deserve a 1 or maybe 2 cow woman. (oops – did I just make the same mistake AGAIN!)

  9. Nameless today. says:

    Regarding Gospel Doctrine, they have probably read the book, but not recently. One of these days I am just going to have them read the assignment in class, out loud, and forgo any discussion whatsoever. Happy Hubby, I knew you were kidding.

  10. Not a Cougar says:

    Kristine, was this ever an actual belief in your Mormon circles? On my mission, it was a running joke due to some very diligent and but not very attractive elders. I’ve only ever heard it expressed tongue in cheek, and that’s the way I took Hubby’s comment.

    Angela, is there a way to add zombies to this? The Book of Mormon and Zombies by Jane Austen. A bit derivative perhaps, but I would definitely read it. Especially, the chapter where Mr. Ammon politely attempts to keep the undead arms he’s just chopped off from strangling him.

  11. “On my mission, it was a running joke…. I’ve only ever heard it expressed tongue in cheek…”

    Yep, humor. It’s the way cretins make the unpalatable less loathsome. That’s why you never joke in the presence of liberals, unless you think you are one, and even then, you should be very careful.

  12. Jason K. says:

    Jokes about women being handed out as prizes are in bad taste regardless of political inclination. It’s possible to be funny without treating half of humanity as commodities. (Not that I, a humorless liberal, would know anything about that.)

  13. Jason K. says:

    Incidentally, I told the same joke as a missionary. Thank God I’ve had time and occasion since then to learn and repent.

  14. Kristine says:

    It would be funnier if it weren’t still in D&C 132.

    Happy Hubby, sorry to have gone all feminist killjoy on you.

  15. Aussie Mormon says:

    “Angela, is there a way to add zombies to this?”
    Not sure about the Book of Mormon, but Ezekiel 37:7 has got the zombies covered, so maybe an Austen version of the Old Testament.

  16. Angela C says:

    I literally heard that same joke at my son’s seminary graduation on Sunday, told by a young man, although in fairness (?) he made it more equal by saying that studying your scriptures would make you attractive to the opposite sex.

    Now my daughter was told on Saturday (when she posted a selfie in a tank top) that “modest is hottest” by one of her YW friends. I think she was a little offended until I pointed out “No effing kidding. It’s 105 degrees out.”

  17. Not a Cougar says:

    Aussie, I sure hope resurrected bodies look a lot better than those in The Night of the Living Dead. :)

  18. I similar theme in both the Book of Mormon and Jane Austen’s book is the importance of repentance. Almost all of Austen’s characters do, say, or assume something they end up regretting and have a “mighty change of heart”. This is actually one of my favorite themes in both Austen’s characters and the Book of Mormon’s.