I rarely blog on personal matters or controversial subjects, but something happened recently that was so shocking and eye-opening to me that I can’t not talk about it. Perhaps I am feeling a bit like Mr. Darcy in hindsight, wishing he had not been secretive about Wickham. Maybe sharing and revealing will save someone from what I consider a reprehensible movement.
Let me back up a bit…
On September 12 I blogged on Austen Authors about a class I had just started teaching two days prior. The salient points of that blog are that I was asked to teach a group of homeschool late-teen/young adult girls a literature and history class with Miss Darcy Falls in Love as the basis. I planned the class for over a month, sent out the altered PDF of Miss Darcy Falls in Love (minus the one explicit sex scene, which occurs after they are married) well in advance, and was clear as crystal that not only was the book our text but that I am a romance historical novelist. Links were provided to my website, I gave my phone number if anyone had questions, etc. When I said in the AuAu post that the first class went well, I am honest in that I DID think all was well. In my mind there was no question that the class I planned would be a fabulous one that any normal female would absolutely adore being a part of. I still think this is so. However, to my surprise I was not dealing with “normal” teenagers, and worse yet very abnormal parents.
My first indication came on the same day the AuAu blog posted when my friend who asked me to teach called to express concern from one parent. The scene in question, for those who have read MDFIL, begins on page 30 and is where Lord Essenton (Who is NOT a nice man!) has a gruff exchange with Lady Essenton. Frankly I was confused at what could possibly be upsetting about this scene, the reply being the reference to “breasts” and Lord E having mistresses. Oookaaay.
Additionally forewarned to the heightened sensitivity, strict blinders to historical facts, and rigid view of what is deemed “racy” I entered the classroom on September 17 nervously but determined to carry on. Only one girl had cracked open the book (the daughter of the friend who asked me to teach, she loving it and devouring the entire novel), so the option of delving into the opening chapter to discuss thematic elements, character structure, dialogue, plot and pacing, and so on was moot. Luckily I was prepared with a brief history on what the Regency was, travel during that time, and a few other baseline topics to set the stage for Georgiana’s sojourn in France.
This seemed to go well, but then at the end the Lord Essenton scene was brought up by the concerned mom. I explained the purpose of the scene for the story as well as the historical truth of how marriages often were in those days and with that generation (ie- arranged and not based on love) and the fact of men in this class having mistresses, etc.
Well, to make a long story as short as possible, the week between classes #2 and #3 was replete with emails from parents. Every one of the girls – whose ages ran from 16 to 20 – were pulled out. Except for the previously mentioned daughter of my friend, who has been overwhelmed with sadness and dismay. It was an emotional rollercoaster for me as well, but in the end I have been enlightened to something shocking.
Reading the lengthy emails from the moms, talking for hours to my friend, and getting online to do extensive research brought to my awareness a growing movement within certain Christian circles called by various names including: courtship, betrothal, anti-dating, authoritarianism, isolationism, emotional purity, quiverfull movement, and divine manipulation. I am not going to attempt to dig into all the aspects of the general philosophies in this post. You can plug any of those words into Google to learn more about them and the variances, and I will share some links at the end. As with most of these such movements there are kernels of truth and honest desire to improve the difficult life of the Christian living in a fallen world. Also, as with most of these movements, that truth and honesty ends up lost within extremism. The latter is what I saw.
I must pause for a moment to clarify that I am, as my regular visitors know, a devout, born-again Christian, who values her relationship with Jesus Christ above all else in life. I believe in the Biblical teaching of one man for one woman for life, and that chastity and purity before marriage is the best way. Remember that I wrote Mr. Darcy as a virgin when he married Elizabeth Bennet, a fact that I presented in a logical manner and believe is entirely plausible and possible then and now. I also received a fair amount of criticism for that plot point! While never claiming to be an inspirational writer in the strict definition of the genre, my beliefs and faith play out in the lives of the characters in my novels. For that reason I believe the romance between Georgiana and Sebastian fulfills the tenets of a faith-based courtship and marriage, and as such should have been embraced as a text for a group of Christian homeschooled young women.
I also believe that parents have a right to raise their children as they see fit. For the most part. As we all know, there are laws to prevent abuse and sadly these are needed. Yet oftentimes the line between what is parental choice in our shifting world and abuse becomes blurred. This is one of those places, in my opinion, and I am not saying I have the complete picture or all the answers. I only know what was presented to me.
Whatever the name applied, the anti-dating/courtship movements have commonalities and when taken to extreme ends of the spectrum you see the following. Boys and girls are not to talk to or even look at each other. God’s gift of free will and intellectual reasoning are suppressed. Choice for a mate is left up to parents, specifically the father. (Tuck this one in your mind for now.) Women are subservient in everything and have no purpose other then to have babies. Emotions, especially in regards to sensuality and romance, are wrong and to be denied. Learning anything about sex or sexuality is forbidden until after marriage, at which point the couple are left on their own to figure it out. Gazing beyond the bubble of the family and what the parents decide is forbidden. And on and on it goes, but I think you get the picture.
As I said, I will share links at the end, but here are random excerpts from the emails I received so you will know I am not making this up or exaggerating.
My reservation is actually the display of emotions which makes it a romance novel. As a single lady for God, I don’t think it’s right for me to be thinking about those things. I’ve figured if God wants me to be married, He’ll take me on that journey when I come to it…. I’d rather not get those giddy sensations that come with it (reading the novel) if I don’t have to.
This sounds understandable (sort of), but in the next paragraph 1 Corinthians 8:9-11 was quoted and I was accused of writing a novel that stumbles young ladies into acting wrongly. Thanks for that! And why romantic emotions are such a bad thing is beyond my comprehension. Worse yet, if “giddy sensations” are considered something to ignore and not tolerate, then how is one supposed to hear God when He calls you to take the journey toward marriage?
Here are a few snippets from the many emails:
…anything from romantic kisses to an actual sex scene can fuel sexual fantasies, which can stumble a person striving to be pure… on the Oprah Winfrey show, I heard a man say his crippling addiction to porn started with the ads that come in the weekend newspaper…. she might play the (romantic) scene over and over in her head, changing and adding to it. If she has a store in her memory of sex scenes, especially romantic sex scenes, a simple kissing scene might lead her down a path of imagining a whole scenario leading up to sex. The problem here is that at this point the woman is lusting… giving in to fantasizing in this manner can potentially lead a woman or girl to choose to seek out situations in real life…
There is more in the same vein, again making sense to a degree, but always with the inevitable conclusion that even thinking of romance – any kind of romance – will lead to acting upon it in a sinful manner. And, of course, placing the blame on the romantic/sex scene itself while denying, 1) that these are normal feelings God gave us (read Song of Solomon) and not unequivocally lust (ie- bad and sinful), and 2) that we are supposed to learn how to control ourselves in all things and make proper choices with God’s help.
Over and over I was told that Miss Darcy Falls in Love was “explicit” with “heavy overtones of sensuality” – ??? A couple touches? Those above mentioned horrid tingly sensations? The mutual attraction and *gasp* desire to kiss? Talking at the piano?! Oh yes, Sebastian’s dream, in which they are MARRIED, little is described, the point of his despair at losing the woman he loves is insignificant, and it lasts all of two pages so could be flipped past! Yet not one word about the writing itself. No appreciation for a respected, successful, and very busy author giving freely of her time to share her unique knowledge and perspective. Not a hint of recognition from these Christian moms for the journey of sacrificial love that Georgiana and Sebastian embark upon, always with propriety and following a proper courtship of the Era. The story was missed entirely because to them it was a “romance” novel, and that equals porn.
Another email from a mom, this one sending me over the edge, shows the extremeness we have underlying:
I did not know much about the class getting into it (I was clear on the class) and I expected it to be a history class, but I see that reading novels is an intricate part of the class. What I have here is a moral conflict with the sensuality presented in all novels. Chastity promoters warn about novels for girls and porn for boys as equal in effect against chastity. I hope you understand the effects that I am referring to… in general I avoid all novels, women’s magazines and popular culture media altogether.
The bold and underline emphasis is mine. In this instance I could not in good conscience avoid a response. This is my reply in total:
Thank you for informing me and for the explanation. I appreciate, of course, that you have the right to raise your daughters as you see fit. However, do not assume that I can remotely understand or agree with equating ALL novels on the same level as porn. I find that conclusion reprehensible, and as a novelist and advocate of literature I am highly offended. I will pray for your girls because personally I cannot fathom a greater hell then to be raised in an environment where all literature is restricted.
Yet for all this, the real kicker to me was when two more times a reference was made to the scene with Lord Essenton, once specifically naming the exact page when the 20 year old adult student “came to the conclusion that the book wasn’t going to be appropriate.” What is on that page and the ones before that was so offensive? Copying from the novel—
“Write them down for me and I will consider the alternatives. However, Lady Cassandra is my choice and is, in all ways, perfect as the wife of an earl. An obedient son, and wife, would not argue with me over it.” He scowled fiercely, Lady Essenton resuming her poised, and hopefully seductive, perch on the chair. She did not point out, this time, that his “perfect” choice was unattractive, fat, and dull as a post.
“Or worse yet, what if some fortune hunter entangles him in a web and he marries without my permission? What if he falls in love,” he said with a sneer, “with a woman utterly unacceptable, like Miss Darcy?”
“What is wrong with Miss Darcy?”
“Are you a simpleton? She has no title and her dowry is paltry compared to Lady Cassandra. She is completely unsuitable and the sooner she leaves Lyon the better.”
“Well, I think she is a delightful young lady, from what I have seen.”
“Good thing these decisions are not up to you, then. Sebastian will marry a lady of breeding and nobility, not the daughter of a minor landowner. I will not allow it.”
Remember what I told you to tuck away? As I read this scene after researching the betrothal/courtship movement it suddenly became very clear. My husband instantly had the same reaction. In this scene we see a father demanding his son marry his choice of wife, and a son who is refusing. We also see a sneer at the concept of a son choosing a wife based on his emotions of love.
So was the “problem” with Miss Darcy Falls in Love that it is “too explicit”? In their twisted minds apparently so. Or was the bigger problem because it is about two people who freely feel emotions that are real and beautiful, fall in love before an arranged agreement by their elders, learn to trust those emotions, and worse yet, defy at least one parent in choosing for themselves? I think it clear my conclusion is the latter.
I can’t be inside the minds of these girls’ parents, so will not say for sure. But I can logically deduce and know what I have read and been told. It frightens me and makes me very, very sad.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. ~C. S. Lewis
Links of interest if you wish:
The Bondage of Betrothal
Christian Research Institute: Christian Families on the Edge
Approaches to Courtship
Why Not Train a Child? Courtship & Betrothal Movements
My childhood in the ATI/IFB World – a profound personal testimony
How the teachings of courtship damage healthy relationships – be sure to read the comments as well
What does the Bible say about dating, courtship, betrothal, and divine manipulation?