Literature | BYU Studies


Stephen H. Webb (1961–2016): Universal Scholar and Personal Friend [Podcast]

For many Latter-day Saints, their first awareness of the Roman Catholic scholar Stephen H. Webb came through his 2012 First Things article, titled "Mormonism Obsessed with Christ." Within a week of that article's publication, my inbox was flooded with emails from friends and acquaintances asking me things like "Have you seen this?!" or "What do you know about Steve Webb?" and "Wow! I love this guy! He gets us!"


Folk Elements in the Formation of the Mormon Personality

Through the lens of folklore, the author explores the collective Mormon personality. By examining the common beliefs, stories, and songs that exist outside the official body of Church doctrine but among the Saints themselves, the author provides illuminating details about the formation of Mormon culture. Read more

The Dynamics of Terror in Orwells 1984

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Toward a Mormon Literary Theory

Is there a Mormon literary theory? Jack Harrell, a professor at BYU–Idaho and writer of fiction, suggests that perhaps such a theory does exist, at least implicitly—a de facto Mormon literary theory that is yet to be delineated. This article is an attempt to begin that delineation. Harrell first gives a brief overview of LDS literary criticism, using Eugene England's four periods of Mormon... Read more

Den Göttern gleich ich nicht: The Nature of Faust's Salvation

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Irish Heaths and German Cliffs: a Study of the Foreign Sources of Wuthering Heights

Scholars have often disagreed as to the sources for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The author asserts that by looking at the novel as a combination of Irish, German, and British influences, the problems with the sources of Wuthering Heights are easily understood. Read more

Culture Carol: Dickens's Influence on LDS Christmas Fiction

During the festive weeks before Christmas feasts, everybody loves to hate Scrooge. That's how it always was in the household of my childhood. On the first Sunday afternoon of December, my father would gather the children in the family room and ceremonially produce our green, hardbound edition of A Christmas Carol . He worked his way through the five staves of the Carol during that afternoon and... Read more

The Real Thing in James's "The Real Thing"

In this short article, Bernard reviews how an artist in James's short story, "The Real Thing," has a difficult time displaying a couple that demonstrates the reality of wealth. However, they do not portray reality when posing for a painting, so the artist becomes frustrated and hires a lower-class man and a lower-class woman to pose for his painting. Bernard interprets this to mean that there is... Read more

The Other Presences in Irish Life and Literature

Sir John Mahaffy once said, "In Ireland the inevitable never happens, the unexpected always." It is partly for this reason that the traveler there frequently comes away with an absurd rag bag of generalizations, quaint stories and customs, for example, that are often dazzling distortions of fact or captivating embellishments of truth. Once having publicly expressed them, however, he can return to... Read more

Which Are the Most Important Mormon Books?

The very abundance of books in our days—a stupefying and terrifying abundance—has made it more important to know how to choose," observed historian James Bryce. "The first piece of advice I will venture to give you is this," he added. "Read only the best books. . . . Let not an hour. . . be wasted on third-rate or second-rate stuff if first-rate stuff can be had." This wise counsel is in harmony... Read more

The Paradox of Mormon Folklore

In the 130 years since the word "folklore" was coined, folklorists have been trying unsuccessfully to decide what the word means. I shall not solve the problem here. Yet if we are to do business with each other, we must come to some common understanding of terms. Briefly, I consider folklore to be the unofficial part of our culture. When a Sunday School teacher reads to his class from an approved... Read more

Gérard de Nerval: A Reappraisal

The author explores Gérard de Nerval's influence on modern literature. A brief look at episodes in Nerval's life that influenced him as a writer, at his early prose works, and at trends in literature since his day show that the spirit of his work still finds echoes in twentieth century literature. Read more

Theodore Dreiser: Naturalist or Theist?

American author Theodore Dreiser is often considered a naturalist. However, Dreiser's later works reveal a more theistic philosophy. A close examination, especially of Dreiser's last two works, reveals that he was a theist who, for a time, explored naturalist thought. Read more

On the Way to Becoming an Authentic Reader

Not long before his death, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reflected, "My education consisted of the liberty to . . . read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out." I confess, eyes still hanging out at age sixty-six, that it was likewise with me! And like Herman Melville, who dated his life from his first discriminately indiscriminate immersion in books, I date my intellectual and... Read more

Douglas Thayer's Mr. Walquist in Yellowstone: A Mormon's Christian Response to Wilderness

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Dostoevsky on Crime and Revolution: A Study in Russian Nihilism

Although Dostoevsky deserves praise for his literary accomplishments, his ability to write does not necessarily translate into political savvy. Examining Dostoevsky's views on liberalism, nihilism, and socialism, as expressed in The Possessed , The Brothers Karamazov , The Diary of a Writer , and other works, the author concludes that Dostoevsky's faith in "holy Russia" was misplaced even as his... Read more

God and Immortality in Dostoevsky's Thought

The concepts of God and immortality are woven through Dostoevsky's works. They are both necessary to give meaning to life. Although ultimately a pessimist, Dostoevsky finds hope in the Russian God. The author pulls evidence for his argument from The Brothers Karamazov , Notes from the Underground , The Diary of a Writer , The Possessed , The Idiot , and Dostoevsky's short stories and letters. Read more

Yeats and the Invisible People of Ireland

W. B. Yeats is known for his interest in the occult. This author focuses on the Irish myth of fairies and explains how Yeats, with his Irish culture and imagination, could have believed in the existence of the good people. Read more

Religious Implications in the Novels of Robert Penn Warren

Religious implications can be seen in the religiously passionate characters, the minor religious characters, and the major characters of Robert Penn Warren's novels World and Time Enough , Band of Angels , The Cave , Night Rider , At Heaven's Gate , and All the King's Men . The novels explore themes of free will and determinism, evil's influence on man's experience, and the nature of man... Read more

Estaunié's Naturalistic Period and Spiritual Period

French novelist Edouard Estaunié, popular in his country in the 1920s, is still of interest today. His career began with highly naturalistic novels, but by the end of his life, he was writing spiritual or metaphysical works. The author shows examples of these themes in Estaunié's writings, demonstrating that Estaunié's writings do showcase a change from emphasizing determinism to individual... Read more

Seer Stones, Salamanders, and Early Mormon "Folk Magic" in the Light of Folklore Studies and Bible Scholarship

The 2015 publication of an Ensign article on, and especially photos of, one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones still owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints caused quite a sensation in the blogosphere. Mormon studies as a discipline has struggled to make sense of seer stones too. These responses are understandable, considering how often communities tend to presume little change in... Read more

Writing: The Most Hazardous Craft

Writing, if it is done seriously, is dangerous. Any time the imaginative forces of the mind are released and given free rein (and they have to be given free rein or they do not work) there is a danger, because the imagination leads into the exploration of new worlds. The author concludes that creative writing is a way of expression not to be withheld from even the most devout Mormon. If the faith... Read more

Stephen H. Webb (1961–2016): Universal Scholar and Personal Friend

For many Latter-day Saints, their first awareness of the Roman Catholic scholar Stephen H. Webb came through his 2012 First Things article, titled "Mormonism Obsessed with Christ." Within a week of that article's publication, my inbox was flooded with emails from friends and acquaintances asking me things like "Have you seen this ?!" or "What do you know about Steve Webb?" and "Wow! I love this... Read more

Curse upon a God

One unusual result of Ben Jonson's lifelong zest for learning was his distinctive critical method. Intensely interested in classical literature, he blended classical thought with Renaissance enthusiasm in a natural manner. He applied Horatian-Aristotelian critical theory to English literature, not as a direct imitator but as a mind thoroughly familiar with it, fusing it with his own ideas of... Read more

Mormondom's Lost Generation: The Novelists of the 1940s

Wallace Stegner, in his essay on the writer in the American West, laments that Westerners have been unable "to get beyond the celebration of the heroic and mythic frontier." He says, We cannot find, apparently, a present and living society that is truly ours and that contains the material of a deep commitment. . . . Instead, we must live in exile and write of anguishes not our own, or content... Read more

Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night: The Idea as Morality

Stevens discusses in this article how Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night exposes the conflict between ideas and morality. He states that problems result when a person's actions are driven solely by intellect. Stevens illustrates how the three main characters in the novel (Dick, Nicole, and Rosemary) personify three American views of knowledge. The themes Fitzgerald portrays through these characters... Read more

The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature after 150 Years

I ask you to consider the following: Mormonism is a genuine religious movement, with persistent and characteristic religious and cultural experiences growing out of a unique and coherent theology and a true and thus powerful mythic vision, and it has already produced and is producing the kinds and quality of literature that such experiences and vision might be expected to produce; it is, in fact... Read more

Toward the Folkloristic Study of Latter-day Saint Conversion Narratives

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Influence of Finnish Kalevala in the Composition of Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha

In the summer of 1835 a young American poet arrived in northern Europe intent on seeking out the mysteries of Scandinavia, and in high spirits in anticipation of the romance of the North. But Henry Wadsworth Longfellow soon became disillusioned. His failure to achieve his original objectives can be attributed largely to his own personality characteristics which proved to be far from favorable in... Read more

Socrates' Mission

Many scholars have been dismissive of Socrates' religious tendencies, but Daniel W. Graham asserts that Socrates performed a kind of sacred mission by encouraging his fellow citizens to care for the integrity of the soul rather than emulating certain gods of vice. Socrates maintained that mortals honor the gods best when they are living upright, moral lives. In the process, Socrates fairly... Read more

Nauvoo Neighbor: The Latter-day Saint Experience at the Mississippi River, 1843–1845

This excerpt from Susan Easton Black's new book introduces the Mormon newspaper the Nauvoo Neighbor and the significant role it played in Nauvoo between 1843 and 1845. Read more

French Reaction to Shakespeare

It is known that before and after Shakespeare's death in 1616, troupes of English actors often performed in Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and even Latvia. In Germany and Austria, particularly, where extensive research has been conducted, the bulk of the repertories was Shakespearean. In France, however, investigation of early seventeenth-century material, published or... Read more

Perpetuation of a Myth: Mormon Danites in Five Western Novels, 1840–90

In Caldwell County, Missouri, during the spring and summer of 1838, there had been instances of vandalism, theft, and terrorism against Mormon settlements. Mormons, fearing a repeat of the occurrences in Jackson and Clay counties, from which they had been driven by force and political maneuver in 1833 and 1836, were determined not to lose their properties again. Therefore, over the period of... Read more

Popular and Literary Mormon Novels: Can Weyland and Whipple Dance Together in the House of Fiction?

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Humor in Lazarillo de Tormes

Social shifts may have altered many of the elements that have made Lazarillo de Tormes a delightful reading experience, but its principal characteristic, humor, is as pertinent to our aesthetic enjoyment today as it was in the sixteenth century. The word humor has devolved from its originally exclusive use as a term for the four humors of the body (blood, phlegm, choler, black bile), the... Read more

The Spectrum of Faith in Victorian Literature

Unlike that of the Romantic Age preceding Victorianism, and of the Neo-classic Age preceding Romanticism, the literature of the Victorian Age—that is, English literature of the middle and later nineteenth century— is characterized, not by unity but by diversity, not by basic harmony in tone and philosophy but by basic contradiction. On the surface this was an age of solidarity and even stuffy... Read more

Making a Mormon of Milton

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The Relationship Between Partonopeus de Blois and Cupid and Psyche Tradition

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The Anti-Christian Background of German Literary Naturalism

During the last twenty years of the nineteenth century (the age of German naturalism), Christianity, assailed many times since its foundation, was once again the subject of attack. The basis of the anti-Christian attitude was, on the one hand, the contention that the historical substructure of religious beliefs had been shaken; on the other hand, it was claimed that Biblical criticism called for... Read more

Tristram Shandy and the Comedy of Context

Columbia University literature professor George P. Landow uses Laurence Sterne's 1750s series of novels, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, to illustrate how communication takes place. Refuting the idea that language can only convey ideas between two people when both speakers agree on what a word denotes, Landow highlights the comedy—and communication—that takes place in Sterne'... Read more