Christie made an interesting comment on my last post about how some of the people in her RS reading group found Austenland a little bit trashy. It was interesting to me because I had a very similar conversation with a friend this morning.
As an aspriring novelist who is first and foremost and LDS person, sex is a very tricky issue. If you are not going to treat it at all, then you are stuck writing novels that are only of the LDS variety, or ones that are completely devoid of romance (which is hard to do because we learn a lot about ourselves as we fall in love and work through relationships). Whether we like to admit it or not, sex and romantic love are pretty closely connected in our society. Even in LDS circles, there are plenty of young men surrounded by wonderful friend-girls who they are not attracted to and will never marry for that reason.
Shannon Hale's novel, Austenland, makes no pretenses of being for anyone other than adults. The protagonist is in her mid-thirties, single, un-religious and living in New York. This is not a novel aimed (necessarily) at an LDS audience, and certainly not aimed at teenage girls. Implying that a woman living such a lifestyle is automatically trashy because she is just following the rules of the culture she lives in is jumping the gun a bit, I think.
In fact, Hale works very hard to let the reader draw their own conclusions. Other than a little descriptive making-out, she avoids the sex question entirely, by merely implying there are times this main character was okay with it and times that she wasn't. No descriptions, no titilating details, no smokin' hot love scenes. . . .
Now, the Twilight saga (the word used on Amazon) on the other hand . . . (I promise, I'm not getting holier than thou here. I've read them all and probably will read the next as well. I'm just trying to make a point.) Stephanie Meyer has kind of painted herself into a corner. These books are obsessesed with descriptions of physical attraction (and physcial attractiveness) and she is never shy to put her characters into very close and compromising situations. After all, any Bishop worth his salt will tell you that merely not having sex is really not enough, and having your boyfriend sleep in your room every night is definitely over-stepping the bounds of what is and is not appropriate. When it comes time for Edward and Bella to finally just get past the tension, marriage or not, she will have to alienate a certain portion of her readers. Her younger and/or more conservative fans (read: LDS) will mostly be disappointed if she includes the gory details, feeling like she sold-out. Still, they will probably comfort themselves with the fact that "at least they are married." On the other hand, her older, non-LDS readers will be disapointed if she allows the great consummation to take place behind closed doors. "What!?! 1500 pages of passion burning the pages up and she leaves out the undressing of Edward!!!!???????!!!!!!!" It is almost like the whole abstience thing in the Meyer books is just a way of obsessing about sex.
It is an interesting question, but I have to admit I found Austenland, for all of its implied sexuality, much less trashy than Eclipse, with its relentless sensuality. As LDS authors (and actors) become more and more mainstream, it will sometimes be hard to make choices about what is really appropriate. And make no mistake, LDS authors will have to bear closer scrutiny than their less religious peers. There is no getting away from it: our culture affects everything we do, even when we are trying to operate outside our culture; and those outside our culture watch us very carefully.
In an unrelated news item, did you guys know this is called the "Dead Star." That's what Patchy Pirate says. Of course, Scallywag tells me that Patchy is still a padawan learner, and not yet a full Jedi.