In Part 3, Chapter 3 of War and Peace, Princess Marya Bolkonsky is getting made up to go meet a suitor — a potential husband — Anatole Vassily. Marya is, according to the book, quite ugly, however. And, so her getting made up and dressed up in fancy / smart styles only accentuates her being unattractive, instead of hiding it. Everyone involved in the process realizes this, and feels bad, or like they made a mistake. But, Princess Marya is so upset by the reality of it all, that she refuses to be “undone” or have her dress and hair less fancy. Instead of putting on drab clothing to match her “drab” face she just wants to sit in her clothing and hair and jewelry, and just be ugly. Just accept it.
After she makes all the women helping her get dressed up leave, she starts to daydream of being a mother with a family, before deciding:
“But no, it can never be, I am too ugly.”
Then, the story is written as follows;
And before going downstairs she went into the oratory, and fixing her eyes on the black outline of the great image of the Saviour, she stood for several minutes before it with clasped hands. Princess Marya’s soul was full of an agonising doubt. Could the joy of love, of earthly love for a man, be for her? In her reveries of marriage, Princess Marya dreamed of happiness in a home and children of her own, but her chief, her strongest and most secret dream was of earthly love. The feeling became the stronger the more she tried to conceal it from others, and even from herself.
Marya then begins to pray:
“My God,” she said, “how am I to subdue in my heart these temptings of the devil? How am I to renounce for ever all evil thoughts, so as in peace to fulfill Thy will?”
The story then relates:
And scarcely had she put this question than God’s answer came to her in her own heart. “Desire nothing for thyself, be not covetous, anxious, envious. The future of men and thy destiny too must be unknown for thee; but live that thou mayest be ready for all. If it shall be God’s will to prove thee in the duties of marriage, be ready to obey His will.”
So, we have in the story, a sad woman. She goes to a prayer room. She prays before a statue of Jesus. She receives a revelation, or an answer to her prayer. She is comforted. And, then — back to the story. She goes downstairs. She meets Anatole, and his father Prince Vassily. The story just keeps going.
It’s a nice, beautiful, spiritual moment. But, the whole story isn’t like that. The whole story isn’t pious. It isn’t all about revelation. There is just a nice moment of revelation - in everyday life. The way revelation happens. It happens before you get in the car to go to the grocery store. It happens after you brushed your teeth.
It’s very naturally written.
However, people don’t read War and Peace for the spiritual moments — I’m assuming. It just so happens to have spiritual moments in it. It’s page 199. The first prayer and subsequent revelation received in the whole story. You can’t say War and Peace is about receiving revelation and comfort from God — but it happens in the story. It’s not ignored. But it’s not the main subject.
This is in stark contrast to the other forms of stories we get in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” genre of books and literature — devotionals, inspiring stories, quotes, one after another.
Everything has its place. Nothing is bad or wrong. Chicken Soup for the Soul isn’t inherently any better than War and Peace — nor are their respective genres. They’re just different.
It’s important to realize what you’re writing. What is your genre. What is your medium. In what historical framework and context are you placing your story. And, in what historical framework and context is your audience interpreting your story — probably more importantly. What does your audience think they’re getting? And, what are they actually getting?
Are you giving people War and Peace, but selling it as “Chicken Soup for the Soul” — because getting 1 revelation or spiritual moment 200 pages into the book (however good the book is) is going to make people upset. Are you giving people “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” but selling it as War and Peace? Again — you’re going to have a very upset audience. Because audiences and critics judge work and pieces of art with different criteria, and from different perspectives, based on what they’re being told they’re getting.