Saturday, March 4, 2017

Touchy, Touchy, Touchy!

Anthony Trollope (1815-82) is best known to American readers for the "Barchester Chronicles," a series of novels about church life in a nineteenth-century parish. Although Trollope did not call himself a Christian author, he often dealt with moral and spiritual themes. One of his attempts aroused the ire of a well-known churchman, and illustrates the kind of trouble we can encounter when we deal with touchy subjects.

Trollope wrote about a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage in his novel, Can You Forgive Her? He later commented:
It must ever be wrong to force a girl into marriage with a man she does not love--and certainly the more so when there is another whom she does love. In my endeavor to each this lesson I subjected the young wife to the terrible danger of overtures from the man to whom her heart had been given...leaving for a while a doubt on the question of whether the lover might or might not succeed (Trollope, An Autobiography, chap. 10).
He received a letter from a distinguished Anglican minister who said he usually enjoyed having one of his daughters read Trollope's latest novel to him, but this story had gone over the top. The disgusted clergyman had told his daughter to put it away, and he scolded Trollope for writing a sensational book to gin up sales. Surely the author didn't think a wife contemplating adultery was a fit subject for his readers!

"I asked him in return whether from his pulpit, or at any rate from his communion table, he did not denounce adultery to his audience," Trollope wrote, "and if so, why it should not be open to me to preach the same doctrine to mine."

His critic invited Trollope to spend a week as a guest in his home, where they could "have it out," but the author never accepted this invitation. The novel ended with Lady Glencora staying true to her marriage vows, yet the churchman never learned how the story turned out. He might have forgiven a woman of adultery, but he couldn't forgive someone for having the temerity to write about it!

My crit group is now reading a young adult novel in which the teenage protagonist gets pregnant out of wedlock. It's skillfully written and portrays the girl's quandary in a most authentic way, but I've cautioned the author to expect a cool reception from Christian publishers, because the subject itself will draw a lot of flack.

What are some of the most touchy subjects for your fiction genre? Have you tackled them anyway? How did prospective agents and publishers respond?


Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.

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