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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.

Redeeming Love features examples of:

  • Beware the Nice Ones: Michael is typically a very polite, easygoing fellow—until he finds you undressed and on top of Angel.
    “Does anyone else want to get between me and my wife?"
  • Big Damn Heroes: Michael, bursting in to save Angel from a beating that would kill her right before marrying her. Again after the first time she runs away—he literally tears a patron off the top of her and brawls his way out of the brothel.
  • Break the Cutie: Angel’s backstory. Michael to some degree, when Angel leaves him (especially the last time).
  • Bride With A Past: When Michael brings Angel home immediately following their marriage, his brother Paul recognizes Angel as a prostitute and, assuming Angel manipulated his clueless brother into the match without telling him about her trade, sets off in a rage to tell Michael. The subsequent fight they have reveals the brothers' large differences in philosophy which take almost the entire novel to resolve.
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  • Broken Bird: Angel is cold and very cynical as a result of her past abuse.
  • Celibate Hero: Michael is still a virgin at the age of twenty-six (to Angel's amazement), and remains so even for some time into their marriage (see the listing for Chastity Couple below).
  • Chastity Couple: Michael and Angel don’t have sex for several months after their marriage because of Angel’s emotional dysfunction about it.
  • Children Are Innocent: …until the Rape as Backstory happens.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Michael’s efforts on this front regarding Angel are downright heroic.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played with regarding various characters’ sexual activity and beliefs. Most notable, though, is the age difference between Paul and Miriam; she’s only sixteen, and he well into his twenties, when they get married, but nobody bats an eye at it.
  • Does Not Like Men: Angel hates them—mostly justified since the only men she knew well abandoned her, raped her, and sold her into prostitution, and almost every man she’s met since has only objectified her. In one of her encounters with Michael, she also comments that she’s always found men’s bodies “ugly”—again justified by the fact that pretty much every male body she’s ever seen up close has been in the process of effectually raping her.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Michael’s attempts to get Angel to marry him, as well as his later attempts to get her to stay with him.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Despite that she is actually deeply unhappy as a prostitute, Angel viciously blows off Michael’s attempts to show sympathy and kindness, taking it as a sign that he thinks she is weak.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Averted with Angel; she’s very good at looking and behaving like a lady, but she has next to no domestic skills because she’s never needed them before. This is a source of angst and frustration once she reaches a point where she wants to do something nice for Michael like make him dinner. Played straight when she gets enough practice that she actually becomes quite skilled in the kitchen, and even acquires a job as a cook later on in the novel.
  • Femme Fatale: Angel is not at all shy about using her beauty to get what she wants. Since this is the only way she knows how to get what she wants, however, it reveals how much of a Broken Bird she is. It’s a sign of immaturity and desperation rather than self-confidence or sophistication.
  • 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).
  • Gilded Cage: Angel’s life as a prostitute looks very cushy—she wears extravagant clothes, has a finely furnished room, and very possibly earns more money than almost anyone else in the city, Gold Fever notwithstanding—but it’s revealed that she doesn’t actually own any of her own possessions, has no access to her earnings, and has no control over what she does, who she talks to, or where she goes.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Subverted. 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”.
  • Happily Married: Angel and Michael get there eventually after a very rocky road. Paul and Miriam, too.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Angel just can’t seem to make up her mind whether trusting Michael or breaking his heart makes her more unhappy.
  • Hello, Nurse!: People tend to stare when Angel walks past—she has to have a bodyguard to keep from being accosted—and there’s a reason the going rate for her services are four times any other woman’s.
  • 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.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Averted with Angel. Although she is a protagonist, the psychological effects of her life, specifically being abused and sold into prostitution, are treated as significant. Angel is not happy about her life, and she spends a significant portion of the novel as a very cold, selfish, and manipulative woman. Most of the prostitutes in the book are portrayed as very unfortunate people, though this trope is played straight with some of them, such as the motherly figure of Lucky.
  • House Husband: Michael, because he’s been a bachelor living alone well into his twenties, and Angel learned next to no domestic skills during her life as a prostitute.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Angel leaves Michael for the final time because she believes that when she is gone, he will eventually marry Miriam and be able to have the children he desperately wants.
    • In the same instance, this is why Michael chose not to come after Angel—he decided he couldn’t do anything more to make her happy and it would better to let her go.
  • Jerkass: Paul to some degree, mostly when it comes to Angel.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Angel cannot have children due to a surgical procedure at her first brothel, despite that children are what Michael wants almost more than anything.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: How Angel feels about sex. This causes conflict in her relationship with Michael, who believes that the emotional connection during sex is important.
  • Love at First Sight: Played with: The first time Michael sees Angel, he knows she’s the woman he’s going to marry, but it’s its a ways into their relationship before love (in the romantic sense) enters the picture. Has shades of Love Before First Sight, since he only glimpses Angel very briefly, she has not seen him, and he has no idea who she is.
  • Love Martyr: Michael in his early relationship with Angel.
  • Love Redeems: Obviously. Played pretty much straight: Michael's love starts the healing process that Angel goes on throughout the book, but it takes several years of effort and grief and it's Angel who makes the final decision about what her life will be. See also the listing under The Four Loves above.
  • 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.
  • The Masochism Tango: Michael and Angel, and how.
  • Meaningful Name: The main characters, provided you are familiar with Biblical names. Their significance is lampshaded within the text.
    • Michael Hosea: Hosea is the name of a Biblical prophet who is commanded by God to marry a prostitute, and then take her back even after she is unfaithful to him. This is lampshaded in the book. (Hosea also means "God Saves", which is sort of the point of the whole story, really.)
    • Angel’s real name is Sarah, which is the name of a woman from the Bible who for a long time had no home and was barren. Later, she is miraculously able to have children.
    • Also the name that Michael gives Angel after she refuses to tell him her real name, Tirzah, is another Biblical name meaning “she is my delight” and was intended by Michael to be a meaningful and deliberate expression of love to his wife, in contrast to the superficial name she used as a prostitute, Angel, which was only meant to describe her physical beauty.
  • 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.
  • Not So Different: One of the primary conflicts in the novel, between Paul and Angel.
  • Not So Stoic: The first time Angel is able to enjoy sex with Michael, she finds herself weeping.
  • Old Shame / They're Called "Personal Issues" for a Reason: A version of these tropes is invoked when Angel becomes deeply ashamed of her former life as a prostitute and refuses to tell either her employers or her and Michael’s new neighbors about it (though it turns out that most of those people either guessed or found out about it anyway, and accepted her in spite of it).
  • The One Who Made It Out: Angel is the only prostitute from her original brothel who is able to start a new, ordinary life (which is partially because most of them die in a fire a few months after she marries Michael). Averted with the ministry she sets up to help other prostitutes escape the sex trade.
  • Out, Damned Spot! / Bath of Angst: When she first begins to see that Michael is a genuinely good man, Angel feel she is unworthy of him; she plunges into a river and frantically begins trying to make herself feel clean. Michael eventually finds her rubbing her skin raw with gravel and sobbing.
  • Parental Abandonment: Angel's mother dies when she is eight, and prior to this her father did not acknowledge her as his daughter, because she was illegitimate.
  • 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. All of this communication breakdown nearly undoes the bulk of what the characters spent the whole book working towards.
  • Punny Name / Ironic Name: The miserable little town where Michael meets Angel and Gold Fever ruins people by the handful is called Pair-O-Dice note .
  • Rape as Backstory: Angel is sold into prostitution at the age of eight.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Angel tries this on Michael in an attempt to seduce him shortly after they’re married; he refuses her because he knows she’s only trying to manipulate him. She tries it again sometime later, and he gives in; it can be inferred from later passages that this leads to them having sex at least somewhat regularly.
    • Miriam pulls this in a less overt way when she wants Paul to propose, in a scene rather like the story of Ruth and Boaz in The Bible.
  • The Runaway: Angel flees Michael more than once. For slightly different reasons each time, and to different places each time (see below).
  • 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.
  • Sex Slave: Angel was a prisoner in Duke’s brothel from the age of eight until she finally escaped ten years later. Her subsequent situation left her completely dependent on her madam, however, meaning this is still effectually in play until Michael marries her.
  • 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.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Because of her backstory, there’s little doubt Angel would have ended up a prostitute anyway, but it’s probable her life would have been one she could have been rescued from much sooner had she not been so stunningly gorgeous.
  • Stalker with a Crush: When Michael is first trying to convince Angel to marry him, Angel thinks he is one of these, even though he’s going through “legitimate” means (paying her hourly rate at the brothel) to talk to her.
  • Stepford Smiler: During the early part of the novel, Angel constantly acts like her cushy life as the most beautiful prostitute in town is all she could ever want, when in fact she’s deeply lonely and hates every minute of her work.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: 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.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Paul thinks this is Michael (it comes up particularly when they’re arguing over his marriage to Angel), but although Michael is a virgin he is not ignorant, and he privately struggles a lot with God’s command to do what seems impossible—redeem a cynical and bitter prostitute with The Power of Love.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: We don’t know about the whole world, but it’s made clear that Angel is the most beautiful woman anywhere in the Gold Fever country where the story takes place.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Subverted; Michael is usually the model of chivalry, but when bringing Angel back from the brothel to which she ran away after their wedding, he warns her not to speak on the way home because he’s so angry he might not be able to hold himself back from hurting her.
  • You Are What You Hate: Played with: Paul despises Angel because she sleeps with people outside of wedlock and because he thinks she uses sex to manipulate people, but he has deliberately manipulated her to get sex out of her, knowing Michael is married to her. To his credit, he feels enormously guilty about it.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Oooh boy. Firstly, Angel’s problems in her backstory begin because her mother cheated on her father. In the main body of the novel, Angel runs away from Michael and employs herself at a brothel similar to the one where he married her. Justified (or rather given a Freudian Excuse) because the only way she can feel in control is by giving herself up for sex—which Michael won’t allow her to do with him because of her emotional disconnect.


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