F’n’F Roundtable #1: Talking about *Certain Women*

Members of the Faith and Fiction Roundtablea reading and discussion group that I talked about earlier this week – are discussing our first read of 2011 today; if you’ve also read it, or have thoughts on the themes it brings up, we’d love to have you join in on any or all of our blogs:

We started the year with Certain Women, a novel by Madeleine L’Engle (my review posted on Wednesday). L’Engle’s best-known work is the Newbery Award-winning A Wrinkle in Time, a classic for all ages that incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy and considers matters of philosophy and morality. She also wrote a number of nonfiction works concerning religion and spirituality, and spent much of her life active in the Episcopal Church, making her church home at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Certain Women is very different from Wrinkle; it’s realistic, contemporary adult fiction, and contains some elements that could not be described as appropriate for all ages.

While there are any number of examples of literature that makes symbolic use of Biblical references, L’Engle makes the connections in Certain Women more overt; in conversations between her characters on topics of theology and morality, there’s a lot of quoting from the Old Testament and discussion of the motivations of Biblical characters. The central plot of the novel is modeled on the Biblical story of King David, and one of the secondary characters is a Southern preacher.

The novel is an example of “the Bible as/in literature” (also a unit in my ninth-grade English class), but it’s not “Christian fiction,” which seemed to be a bit of a sticking point for a few Roundtable members. I’m not the most Biblically-literate person – although I do appreciate it “as/in literature” – but that conversation made me wonder about the Biblical elements that one might expect to find in Christian fiction. The stories of King David are found in the Old Testament; by definition, that’s the “pre-Christian” Bible. Christians believe that the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are a New Testament, and while they speak of the same God as the older books, they present and teach about that God a little differently – more loving, less smiting (an oversimplification, but you get the idea). By definition, isn’t that the Biblical context Christian fiction would draw from? If it is, than this novel doesn’t fit. Having said that, I thought that L’Engle didn’t do a bad job of making Old Testament stories meaningful in the context of New Testament beliefs.

I liked the way L’Engle’s managed to make conversations between her characters on topics of theology and morality sound natural and context-appropriate, and not preachy or sermon-like, and I was drawn into her depiction of a particularly complex blended family, but other members of the group were struck by different things. We’ve talked about some of them among ourselves, and we hope you’ll join our conversation today!

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