In my Jane Austen centric English class, we discussed the large LDS following Jane Austen’s British Regency novels have and the various adaptations, such as Scents and Sensibility, that reimagine her novels with a Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints framing narrative. While this was surprising initially, it turns out that biographies of Jane Austen sold significantly more in Salt Lake City than other major U.S. cities with a ratio of 8:1, which is famous for its significant population of members of the church.
As it turns out, the large following Austen’s novels have in connection to the church is due to the morals and values presented in the 1800s. For example, abstinence before marriage, and a strong emphasis on getting married as quickly as possible, are values in the church and the novels. The chaste society seems to appeal to Mormon women as it is comparable to their own. What I find more interesting, however, is not the reimagining of Austen characters within Mormon settings, and incorporation of their faith into religious based adaptations, but how they seem to be misinterpreting the values Austen describes. While the societal values of this time period do seem to agree with current LDS values, Austen is not necessarily advocating for them. She portrays her female characters as being harmed by the patriarchal society they live in, and her novels feature characters attempting to have suitors and be married, not for starting a family to fulfill God’s destiny, but to survive in a society where men only receive inheritance of property. Her writings have been declared feminist by today’s standards and had she been a contemporary writer, many scholars declare she would not write about the institute of marriage as frequently. The chastity was a product of its time, and it does not attempt to glorify it.
While the adoption of Jane Austen into the LDS Church is debatable, it is worthwhile to see that such an enduring writer can be beloved and relatable with women today. More often we see reimaginations of works as being MORE “progressive” than the original, so it is interesting to see a reversal focused not on societal issues but one that is faith based and seemingly more conservative than most of society’s morals and values today. Religion can train its practicers to identify aspects of their faith in other media, which will most likely lead to an increased tolerance of religion.