Deliberate Values Dissonance is when the morals of a character or culture in-story (whether historical or fictional) that modern people don't agree with are presented in-universe. Not because the author believes in them, but because the culture being represented in-universe does.

My series features a character who is heavily implied to be Jeanne d'Arc (and goes by the name of Catherine Romée) as it's deuteragonist. In the series, "Catherine" is subjected to quite a culture shock, after having her soul contained within an ancient artefact called a "Divine Tool" for 600 years. Throughout the series, I plan on having instances where "Catherine" encounters aspects of the modern world that conflicts with her Catholic values.

Key highlights include:

  • Expressing shock at women being able to serve as soldiers.

  • Displaying bafflement at modern society being very accepting of homosexuality.

  • Being awestruck at people's rather lax attitude towards profanity and atheism.

  • Expressing horror and disgust upon learning that the protagonist had premarital sex with a girl prior to the events that unfold in the series.

None of this is played for laughs, as it suggested that "Catherine" is suffering from suicidal depression due to her loved ones being dead, existing in a world that is radically different from her own and having to work with the protagonist, who she doesn't get along with. It's also implied that she may be insane, due to being in social isolation for 6 centuries. But, rather than writing her as a stereotypical homophobic, God-fearing Catholic or making it look like I condone her beliefs, I wish to portray her as someone who hails from a period in time when her religious views were commonplace.

Is anyway that I can achieve such a feat?

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    Learn if you can from other uses of the trope you're trying to invoke.
    – J.G.
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 6:27
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    Don't forget that having sex left and right gave men bragging rights already in Medieval times (read Chaucer for a source I know, but medieval lyric should be even more within your time frame). Disgust would mainly be pointed against the girl in question. (Probably some moral indignation against the man.)
    – sgf
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 8:07

5 Answers 5


The values of the Middle Ages existed for more reasons than church dogma. For example, sleeping with a girl before marrying her meant a fair chance of her getting pregnant. Which was also why men wanted their bride to be a virgin - when resources are scarce, nobody wants to raise another man's child. Woman's modern position in society too is connected to modern ability to choose when to get pregnant, as well as to a higher measure of safety from rape. Your Catherine could confront the other protagonist with the expected consequences of such actions, and then struggle to re-evaluate things in light of different consequences.

Regarding profanity and atheism, be very careful about doing your research. If you read Shakespeare, for example, he uses more profanity than would be considered reasonable for theatre nowadays. It's just different profane words, so we don't perceive them as all that dirty. And while people did not actually say they did not believe in God back then (there was no alternative explanation for natural phenomena), actual religious observance was meh - there's ample record of churches being empty except for holidays, and of the Church being angry at people sinning right and left. Tolerance towards homosexuality is also older than we think. A homosexual couple appears as background characters in Alexandre Dumas' Le Comte de Monte Cristo, for example.

Instead, how would Catherine respond to the Protestant heresy? Heresy is not a word we use nowadays, but it is a word she would be quite familiar with. Worldview is reflected in the words we use. BY using outdates concepts, you can invoke a worldview that is different from our modern one, and within which certain beliefs are understandable.

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    It is worth noting though that while many such values indeed have reasoning behind them, this reasoning wouldn't have been known by or explained to every peasant - people would often have been expected to take the rules as fact, or in this case, gospel.
    – Pahlavan
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 7:20
  • @Pahlavan on the one hand - true. On the other hand, surely a girl could be expected to know that if she sleeps with a boy, she might get pregnant? Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 7:27
  • I would assume for her to know that much, yes. Then again of course, it is also questionable how much a person known for her extreme religiosity would be amiable to rational reasoning for disobeying god's law, although that is in the hand of the author and also not part of my original point. But JdA's level of faith wasn't "commonplace".
    – Pahlavan
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 7:32
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    @Pahlavan If Catherine is the type of girl to accept rules as fact/gospel, then she should be equally open to accepting the new rules when these rules are confirmed by someone she considers as being an authority (she can still struggle with applying the modern rules, or find them counterintuitive, but she should at least accept the principle that they are the new fact/gospel). Catherine's strong resentment of modern values implies that she has a personal opinion on the "ancient" values and why they are better, which means she isn't just blindly following rules.
    – Flater
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:08
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    @Pahlavan Just to cover one gap in my earlier comment: If she is a girl who is hardcoded to enforce her values and is incapable of acknowledging that the current values are different from hers; then you're dealing with a character that won't be adaptable to pretty much anything, which will become jarring in OP's story. Her opinions would very quickly become caricaturistic, cliché and (by modern standards) shortsighted, and you lose access to the interesting "adapting to the future" plot that often drives such a character's arc.
    – Flater
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:13

You might want to be careful with some of your own assumptions there. First, the "premarital" thing; many "marriages" of the time were what we'd today call common law relationships. People just moved in together, had sex, there was no official marriage ceremony at all. And if your protagonist is male, the idea he had sex with a woman outside marriage? Meh. Prostitution didn't disappear 600 years ago, so someone was using their services.

It was women for whom virginity was considered important. Not men. And in those cases, it was likely more a concern of the upper classes due to inheritance issues, but since those are the people who had the most written about them, they receive a disproportionate share of attention. There's debate about how much it was considered important to the average person.

Given the demonstrated human characteristic that we'll fuck pretty much anyone anytime anywhere, I suspect it was something "proper" people tut-tutted about but most people cared about it less than you'd think.

Homosexuality? Depends on time and place, and that could vary a lot. There's no guarantee that just because someone was from a certain period of time that you would automatically know their opinion. Allan Tulchin published a paper in 2007 arguing that same-sex marriage was present in Medieval France in the institution called "affrèrement" (literally, "enbrotherment").

What might surprise Catherine is people and governments officially accepting things rather than tolerating them so long as things stayed in the closet, as it were. Or it might not.

To be honest, you're safer dealing with culture shock for things other than sex. The concept of multiple religions and church sects peacefully co-habitating and generally staying out of politics, for example.


This sounds like an interesting story.

Cathrine will have many attributes people today find, well, medieval. You need to balance that with positive attributes to make the readers accept her.

A key positive attribute is compassion. She must "love the sinner but hate the sin" as St. Augustine approximately said. (This quote is far older than Cathrine and she might even know it)

Write in a few random acts of compassion to establish this part of her character. Let her become friends with people despite their sinful lives.

Also, give her some personality aspects that aren't about religion at all to round her out. There is likely some part of the modern world she will accept and be enthusiastic about. Like food. Clothes with pockets. Whatever, just show that she isn't all about religion.

Confront her with what the Catholic Church and the Pope say today and contrast it what they said in her youth. Give her a modern Bible translation and contrast it with the Bible she used to know.

She will probably have a crisis of Faith. There are many ways such a crisis can unfold, but it is likely to be painful.

Let her change her mind on some of her opinions. But not all of them, that wouldn't be realistic.


The "true story" behind Jeanne d'Arc is unclear and hidden by a lot of use in propaganda over the century. This mean you still have some choice over who your Catherine/Jeanne and what are her core values.

I think it would be a mistake to describe Jeanne d'Arc as a "good catholic girl". Her religious view are not "commonplace" : God speaks to her directly. So catholic church is secondary to that.

"Expressing shock at women being able to serve as soldiers". NO ! She would feel awe. She was leading an army.

If something is important to her, it's politics. The worst shock for her would be the end of french monarchy. However, maybe her love for France is more important than its political regime. Who knows?

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    As I mentioned, the idea that there's a separation of Church and State, either officially as in some countries or in practice as there are in other countries, would likely come as a surprise. "God told me we should invade England, and we should because the Pope agrees" isn't exactly going to get her anywhere in most of the modern world. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 21:39

Another level of dissonance you will need to address is how modern psychology regards her "religious visions" and her belief that God is acting directly through her. A modern secular assessment would be that Jeanne was (obsessively) driven by her (delusional) religious experience.

Does Catherine still believe she was God's instrument on Earth? Does she believe she still has a mission? She would presumably interpret her reincarnation in religious terms, but does she still receive God's guidance or messages or visions?

In Jeanne's world, it was universally accepted that God and the Devil both actively intervened in human affairs. Jeanne herself was assessed for religious orthodoxy by a commission of inquiry, partly to enable the Church to reject any allegation that she was either a heretic or a witch. The most significant dissonance may be her utter belief in God's active intervention in her own affairs, in the face of modern secular society's view that this is delusional thinking. A nice twist is that modern evangelical churches might be more accommodating of her beliefs than the modern Catholic church, yet Catherine would certainly condemn such churches as heretical.

  • Of course, a more science minded Catholic Church is older than you think. The Church was a Major Patron of the Sciences, to such a degree that a Monk is considered the Father of Modern Genetics by Biologists, a Saint proposed a hypothesis that was later confirmed by Darwin's Origin of the Species (which was never opposed by the Catholic Church at the time) and the field of Seismology (Study of Earthquakes) is often jokingly called "The Jesuit Science" due to the fact that most of the major contributions to the field in it's early days were by Jesuit Priests.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 16:02

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