For the past two months, I covered a particular line of Christian fiction available in today’s market. I may at some future date return to consider further titles in that line, in particular since at this time the line seems to encompass several authors who have also published in other venues.
This month, however, I want to take a look back and consider a more classic title. Christian fiction as a viable, vibrant market has primarily arisen in recent history. However, throughout what we consider literary history at least the occasional Christian fiction piece has appeared in the marketplace: dating back at least to Dante’s work. Still others would make the case for the earliest true Christian title being Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Throughout what we might call the motion picture age, occasional titles have appeared, many based on Biblical episodes such as The Robe and The Spear.
The challenge in covering some of this material is that much of it is out of print and hard to find, and much of what is available (like Pilgrim’s Progress) takes massive alotments of reading time. Which is why I’ve generally steered away from covering classics to date in this column.
However, there is one work that we can categorize as Christian fiction, and as a classic, from which we can learn a great deal. And it is interesting that we can break this down as a “classic” and as “Christian fiction” but not necessarily as “classic Christian fiction.”
That is Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. In this coming of age novel, set in the post-Civil War era in the United States . . . in Concord, Massachusetts, in fact . . . we find an example of what we would today consider to be Christian fiction.
Although Alcott’s verbiage is a little vague, and thus the New Testament of the Bible is never explicitly called that, in the first few chapters of the novel Alcott sets up the structure of the novel so that the four young women who are the protagonists of the book receive copies of the New Testament for Christmas, which will become their guidebook for life. The book is further structured around the episodes depicted in Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical work in which protagonist Christian struggles to journey through life in a manner worthy of the name.
It’s an interesting dichotomy, since the Alcott family’s ethical and moral underpinnings were actually more allied with transcendentalism and utopianism than with Christianity. Still, Alcott shows the young girls and their associates striving to live according to New Testament principles (although with some social class consciousness of the era added in) and that is the basic requirement of Christian fiction.
Little Women is a good example for those with an eye toward Christian literary fiction, following a good rhythm of obstacle, climactic event, and relief from tension; as well as showing the characters genuinely struggling with the challenges of living in accordance with their chosen principles.
There is good reason this novel is considered a classic young people’s novel, and the Christian principles it showcases make it a worthwhile study for those examining the Christian fiction market.