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Literature / Redeeming Love

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Redeeming Love is a 1991 Christian Historical Fiction novel by Francine Rivers, set in California during the Gold Rush. It’s loosely based on the Biblical book Hosea, which is about a prophet commanded by God to marry a prostitute. This novel’s protagonist, Michael Hosea, is a farmer who marries “soiled dove” Angel on God’s instructions.

Angel has been abused for years, was sold into prostitution at the age of eight, and believes she is guilty for even existing. Because of her background Angel finds it impossible to trust the people around her and attempts to gain control over them the only way she knows how, regardless of how much it hurts her in the process. Through Michael's love she gradually learns to have faith in people, God, and finally herself—though not without a lot of setbacks and betrayal.

The book presents Evangelical Protestant teaching on the love of God through the relationship of Michael and Angel.

A film adaptation co-produced by Pure Flix Entertainment and Touched by an Angel alumna Roma Downey's Lightworkers studio is in production and after being delayed from 2021 was released on January 21, 2022 by Universal Pictures.

Redeeming Love features examples of:

  • Age-Gap Romance:
    • When they met, Michael is 26, and Angel is 18.
    • Miriam is sixteen, and she marries Paul who's well into his twenties.
  • Babies Ever After: The epilogue says that eventually, Sarah and Michael's prayers were answered and they had the children they both wanted so much.
  • Beta Couple: Paul and Miriam get married near the end of the novel. They are somewhat more stable then Michael and Angel but they, too, hit a few bumps on their road to happiness.
  • Big Damn Heroes: After the first time Angel runs away and becomes a hooker again, Michael literally tears a patron off the top of her and brawls his way out.
  • Darkness Equals Death: It is a dark night when the heroine witnesses a man being murdered and is sold into prostitution at the age of eight.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The book was written in 1991, but the story is set in 1850 and portrays period-appropriate attitudes towards various characters' sexual activity. Angel, a rape victim, is perceived as a "soiled dove" by most characters, including Angel herself. On the other hand, Miriam is sixteen, and no one bats an eye at her marrying Paul who's well into his twenties.
  • Foil: The Beta Couple, Paul and Miriam, are this to Angel and Michael, with the genders reversed: here, the woman is innocent and pure, while the man is more experienced and morally compromised. In order to acknowledge their love and start a relationship, they both have to learn from the best traits of the main couple: Paul has to emulate Michael's purity and honesty, while Miriam has to emulate Angel's courage.
  • The Four Loves: The Love Redeems theme of the novel actually deals with agape, unconditional love intended to reflect God’s love for humanity—Michael acts with love towards Angel even before he really knows her, and even at times when he hates her. The eventual eros, them falling in love romantically, is a bonus.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Michael has only seen Angel three or four times by the time they get married (and most of those “dates” went very badly; Angel was singularly unimpressed with Michael’s Dogged Nice Guy approach. The only reason they succeed in getting married so quickly was because Angel is beaten almost to death by a disgruntled customer; she doesn't have the energy to resist, and the madam assents because Angel is no use to the brothel half-dead).
  • Happily Married: Angel and Michael get there eventually after a very rocky road. Paul and Miriam, too.
  • Harmful to Minors: Sarah witnesses a man being strangled to death. Then, she herself gets raped. She's eight.
  • Honor Before Reason: Virtually all of Michael’s interactions with Angel until the last part of the novel follow this trope. He treats her as he would a beloved and faithful wife essentially because God told him to, despite that Angel actively tries to goad him (and his family tries to persuade him) into doing otherwise.
  • Internal Reveal: The reader knows Angel's real name is Sarah as she's referred to by her name in the first chapter. In the last chapter, she reveals her name to Michael.
  • Ironic Name: The miserable little town where Michael meets Angel and Gold Fever ruins people by the handful is called Pair-O-Dice, as in "Paradise."
  • Leave Me Alone!: In the beginning, Angel doesn't want Michael's help and tells him to leave her alone so often you can make a drinking game out of it.
  • Love Martyr: Angel tells Michael that at one time, she believed that she was in love with Duke, the man who raped her and ran the brothel in which she was imprisoned until she was eighteen.
  • Love Redeems: Exactly What It Says on the Tin, only it's a downplayed example: Angel is not evil but she can be quite a jerk. Michael's love starts the healing process that Angel goes on throughout the book, but it takes several years of effort and grief.
  • Loving a Shadow: In response to his yet another love confession, Angel tells Michael, "You don't have any idea who and what I am other than what you've created in your own mind." However, he loves her unconditionally, regardless of what she is.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Angel reveals her true identity to her father after having sex with him. It's a contributing factor in his suicide.
  • Marriage Before Romance: And does it ever take a long time for the romance to catch up.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: The word "cursed" is often used in place of actual swear words, but the reader is given enough information to imagine what the swears would be, given Angel's situation.
  • Parental Incest: Duke brings Angel's father to her as a client. She has sex with him, then reveals who she is. She says this is the real reason her father shot himself three days later.
  • Platonic Prostitution: This is how Michael gets himself alone with Angel—several times—in order to ask her to marry him. She’s highly annoyed, since she’s been propositioned by a number of infatuated customers wanting to “take her away” from her life as a prostitute before, and she has next to no social skills that don’t involve sex in some way, shape, or form. It makes for a very awkward half hour.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Near the novel’s end: Angel’s inability to communicate to Michael that she really does love him and isn’t staying out of a sense of obligation, and Michael’s failure to tell Angel that he wouldn’t trade her for any other woman—children or no children—results in both of them pulling an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy and splitting up. This is further compounded when Miriam neglects to tell Angel that she is in love with Paul, not Michael, and when Paul—having gone to retrieve Angel—doesn’t tell her straight out that he is the one now Happily Married to Miriam.
  • Punny Name: The miserable little town where Michael meets Angel and Gold Fever ruins people by the handful is called Pair-O-Dice, as in ”Paradise”.
  • Runaway Hideaway: The first time Angel flees Michael, she goes to a brothel similar to the place she worked in before. The second time, she finds work as a cook servicing the gold miners. The third time, she starts up a ministry helping girls who have been sold into prostitution by helping integrate them into society as upstanding and self-sufficient women. These different escapes are important in showcasing Angel's Character Development: at first, she’s so broken she can’t function in society, or learn how to be anything but self-destructive. The second time, she manages to be something better than an object for others’ gratification, but she still isn’t happy or making something of herself. The third and final time, she is able to harness the love shown her by Michael and reach out to others, and in such a way that it remains effective even after she returns home to Michael.
  • Sexless Marriage: Michael and Angel don’t have sex for several months after their marriage. Michael would love to but Angel has emotional dysfunction about it.
  • Sexual Karma: The novel makes it clear that prostitutes' experience of sex is not fulfilling either physically or emotionally, no matter their personality or motives. Even after they begin to establish a stable relationship, it takes a long time for Angel and Michael to make love with results that they both consider “good”.
  • Shameful Strip: Subverted: the last time Angel returns home to Michael, she takes off her clothes as she crosses the field towards him, as a symbol of her vulnerability and willingness to be open with him, in contrast with her previous closed-off attitude and in contrast with the innumerable times she unwillingly had to do the same thing as a prostitute. This is the first time it’s not a symbol of her shame.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The novel is written in third person limited, switching between Angel, Michael and sometimes Paul between paragraphs.