As a writer, I tend to believe that, ultimately, there are two reasons people write. Some do so simply because they want to, perhaps expecting notoriety, financial gains, personal entertainment, or something else. Others write because they have to. Myself, I have to write: there are stories rattling around in my head, stories of fiction, and they won't leave me alone until I get them out. I either write, or go nuts, probably.
I say this not to talk about my own writing, as much as I enjoy doing so, but to discuss Julie Rowse's book Lies Jane Austen Told Me. In truth, this is not a work I would have sought out—the dating life of a Mormon woman? No offense, but what do I care? Yet after blazing through the first 90 pages or so, I found myself enjoying the book and eager to read on.
Still, as much as I was enjoying the book, I won’t deny that I would sometimes stop to grapple with a question: what made Rowse decide this story had to be told? The book is well written, yes, and I was intrigued by a culture I knew little about. But that didn't give me my answer. What made Rowse want to share what is a highly personal story with the world?
Then, around the midway point, Rowse began to write of her fiancé. He had been mentioned, briefly, earlier in the text. At the time, I wondered why the mention had been so scant. Clearly, this was an important part of her story. Here was a woman who was dying to be married, born in a culture that apparently believed the ultimate goal of a female was to become a wife and a mother, and yet she only wrote briefly of a full-fledged fiancé without going into further detail?
But as I read more about this man, it all became clear.
Why did Julie Rowse decide to tell her story? I could be wrong, but I don't believe that she wanted to write this book. I am not certain she was bursting to showcase her personal insecurities and difficulties. No, I believe Rowse felt she had to write it, if not for herself, than as a potential warning for others. People who are willing to sacrifice their own personal integrity to live up to what we—all of us—believe society demands of us. Set in the context of this world, one that Rowse has respectfully brought us into (she is quite clear in stating the many benefits she has derived from her faith), this Mormon culture that seems to value one role for woman above all others, we are given a stark example of the many outside pressures people allow to measure themselves.
This book dares to ask—is it worth it? Are there costs that we should refuse to pay? If so, what are they? What line are we not willing to cross to meet the expectations society has put on us?
Rowse needed to tell this story. Chances are, you need to read it.
(Full disclosure: I was given an advance copy of this book as EAB Publishing had published my last book. I did some minor copy editing on it while reading it. It had no impact on my personal thoughts of the book.)