Fear in Writing: Irreverence

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Friday, March 12, 2010


When I was little and sitting beside my daddy in church, he used to tell me a story.  It went something like this--
'When I was a boy and would take communion, I remember my grandmother [this writer's great-grandmother] holding the communion cup and bit of bread.  She would then turn to me and say, "If only I had a bit of cheese..."'

Now, that tells you something about my great-grandmother.  It tells you she was a bit feisty, enjoyed wit and humor, and had no problem being irreverent.  And you probably liked her for it.  In fact, she was a fascinating woman.  In Jeannette Hoffman Sims' 20s, she performed in Vaudeville (singing).  Then she married my great-grandfather and had my grandmother (another strong-willed lady), settling in the affluent section of Houston known as River Oaks.  The marriage didn't last, but Grandma Jeanne [that's zh-ahn] did, surviving on wit and strength until the age of 97.  (If she had lived, she would have turned 120 on March 1st.)
I like a little irreverence in my fiction.  Give me some Nelson DeMille any day.  Even former Southern City Mystery guest blogger and author Vincent Zandri throws his weight behind irreverence.  But it is something that must be done tastefully.  And, if overdone, it can turn your reader off completely.

I thought of this during communion on Sunday.  At church, while taking part in a sacred ritual, I was writing this post in my head.  Talk about irreverent!

What about you?  Do you like a bit of the old one-two in your reading?  How about in your writing?  Are you irreverent at times or completely Victorian?
Bookmark and Share


  1. I could probably be a little more irrelevant. Although while I like it in my movies, I like my books a little more straight-forward, if that makes sense.

    Your great-grandmother sounds like she was one tough cookie!

  2. Oh, I gotta have some irreverence. Spenser, Elvis Cole, Nelson Demille's characters, Moe Prager--those are the people I like to read about.

  3. Fascinating question and a resounding, yes! I think irreverence keeps things real and human. In my feeble brain, there is a clear difference between irreverence and disrespect and it it's all about the spirit of delivery. Irreverence + contempt = disrespect—that's not acceptable.

    My work is occasionally irreverant. It usually comes in the form of my protag's wry and oft times self-mocking wit. It seems key to have a character intercedent (like the amazing Jeanne!) to filter the irreverence through before it hits its target - church, government, whatever. Hope that makes sense.

    Love Nelson DeMille. :)

  4. I like a little too. I guess it depends on the context of the situation for me.

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Yes, need irreverence in books I read. Enjoyed the post. Both your grandmother and great-grandmother sound like amazing ladies, a trait they passed on to you. :)

  6. I'm positively Victorian. Yup. I eschew references to sex, violence, alcohol, and drugs. I avoid profanity and irreverence. I also have a bridge I'd like to sell you. Cheap. Connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. It's nice.

  7. Alan- Totally agree. Great examples!

    VR- Yes, fine line but BIG difference between irreverence and disrespect.

    Kristen- Context plays a big part. I suppose irreverence wouldn't be appropriate in Christian lit!

    Mason- What a compliment! Well, thank you.

    Jemi- Yes, it is. And we all need a little fun. I hope you get some fun this weekend.

  8. And I have some oceanfront property in Arizona I'd like to sell you...

  9. Eh, Chels, it seems to me you should quit mysteries and write a book about Grandma Jeanne, not only that her story sounds extremely interesting, but you already have an amazing name for the main character. Think about it, such novels are always the best.

    And when it comes to the topic of your post, I adore irreverent people (probably because I'm a bit of an Antichrist myself and a total atheist:)

  10. All depends on story and character. Some need to be reverent and others not so much. I like irreverent characters because they tend to question things and not fall for any bull. But there are some characters I could never picture that way. Their strength and surety comes from faith (of course not all of them in my stories worship good gods, so it can be a bad thing).

  11. Never would have guessed, Dez! wink, wink...And you may be on to something. I think about memoirs/nonfiction quite often, but haven't made the plunge yet.

    Lorel- It has to be written well and written right. You're right. I think that's why some books come across as offensive, while others are just plain funny.

  12. I vote for a fiction novel, told from a point of view of her granddaughter who decides to tell the readers a story of her grandma, and then writes the novel in the form of memories and flashbacks. I would put in it a lot of fictive details, which you would invent to spice up the story. It would be one of those alluring sagas which follow the life of a person describing all of her adventures, problems, happy times, loves, and the influence she had on her descendants. I can already imagine the tittle THE IRREVERENT LIFE OF GRANDMA JEANNE :))

  13. Hi Michele - I just dropped in to thank you for commenting on my post on the Curzon Group blog and found this fascinating post. Irreverance is so subjective, isn't it? I'm not sure of the definition, but to me it suggests slight rebelliousness and defiance, but with good humour thrown in. It lacks the anger that so often drives rebellious thoughts... I'm not altogether sure how it's defined, but I'm all for it as it implies independent thought. People who follow others blindly, without thinking for themselves, can be quite dangerous. So often in history people have been misled by leaders who were unworthy of the respect due to their status. So I'm all in favour of a little irreverance, as long as it doesn't hurt or disrespect others.
    And I just came by to say 'thank you' !

  14. Oh, Dez! What an idea! What an IDEA!

    Leigh- Definitely and you're welcome. Really strong points and I don't have the brain power to respond properly. I am glad I found my way to your blog once again, and hope to stop by more often.