Bright Angels and Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories

Academics have recently been inundated with demands to include in what has been called a Eurocentric canon more literature from other cultures. Such inclusion would necessitate exclusion of some standard material to make room in crowded curriculums, yet the multiculturalists contend that students derive great satisfaction in literature written by or relating to their own cultures. After reading Bright Angels and Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories, I better understand the deep satiety that comes from seeing one’s culture explained, explored, and enhanced in what would be in anyone’s book good literature. FortunatelyÑor notÑthis book’s inclusion in the Mormon canon of literature would not precipitate bumping much material off the short list of what one should read. Mormons are just now coming into their own in the realm of good literature.

England explores this coming of age in his introductory essay, “The New Mormon Fiction,” which stands as one of the best parts of the book. He has peeled back the academic verbiage and scholarly pretension that often accompany such an undertaking and offers a lucid and concise history and explanation of Mormon fiction. After tracing Mormon literature from early apology and satire through “home literature” and the “lost generation,” he introduces the crop of well-schooled writers who now are defining a Mormon voice both in the Church and in the larger world. England, a professor of English at Brigham Young University, has a broad view of literature from the perch he has taken, straddlingÑor perhaps bridgingÑthe realms of a convinced Mormon and of a liberally educated man of letters. For example, he writes of the home literature movement without attacking or apologizing for its “didactic and sentimental” stories (xii). He explains that Orson F. Whitney, concerned about the influences of the world on the early Utah Saints, promoted homegrown poetry and fiction for Church members by such writers as Susa Young Gates and Nephi Anderson. England notes that this writing, aimed at combating evil from without, was “based more in dogma than experience” (xii). And he discusses what such literature meant to Mormon readers after its inception in the 1880s.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 33:3
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