Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New Publication: Thrill of the Chaste

Weaver-Zercher, Valerie. 2013. Thrill of the Chaste: the Allure of Amish Romance Novels. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

According to Johns Hopkins University Press
Valerie Weaver-Zercher combines research and interviews with devoted readers, publishers, and authors to produce a lively and provocative examination of the Amish romance novel. She discusses strategies that literary agents and booksellers use to drive the genre's popularity. By asking questions about authenticity, cultural appropriation, and commodification, Thrill of the Chaste also considers Amish fiction's effects on Amish and non-Amish audiences alike.
Weaver-Zercher is a Mennonite and as she writes in The Mennonite,
I wrote myself and my Mennonite identity into the book. I needed readers to know that I had some skin in the game, so to speak, and that I felt a strange blend of flattery and revulsion as I watched the burgeoning size and commercial strength of the genre.

I'd wager that many North American Menno­nites feel a flicker of pride in our theological and historical connection to the group that has become the buggy-driving superstars of popular culture. [....] Maybe all the Amish hoopla in popular Christian and secular cultures signals that there really is something excellent about this faith to which we belong. [...]

Yet as I read Amish novel after Amish novel, I felt a niggling sense of annoyance, too. It had something to do with the borrowing and benefiting at work in the fact that 60 non-Anabaptist novelists are advancing careers by locating their stories in Amish country. [...] I wondered whether readers were learning anything about Anabaptism's communitarian ethics, nonresistant commitments and history of persecution. The near absence of references to nonresistance in the books made me suspicious. Although I hesitated to blame romance novels for offering a partial view of a complicated and centuries-old religious tradition, I [...] wondered whether these gentle narratives of marriage and family and neighbor and land did more to illuminate or obscure the identity of a complex culture. 
Those of you interested in virginity in romance may be intrigued by her suggestion that "the Amish are seen as premodern virgins":
Chastity descends from the Latin term castus, meaning a state of being “morally pure” or “holy,” and this concept fuels the genre in several ways. The Amish, who reject public grid electricity, phones inside homes, and car ownership, are often viewed as chaste residents of an otherwise defiled larger culture. Like the mythic virgins of literature and lore, whose rejection of sex earned them respect and even beatification, the Amish are frequently imbued with power commensurate with their ability to abstain from what many view as essential intercourses of a technological age: driving cars, flipping light switches, using a laptop, owning a cell phone.  (Excerpt adapted for First Things)
You can read another excerpt here.

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