Of Many Hearts and Many Minds : The Mormon Novel and the Post-Utopian Challenge of Assimilation
University of Cincinnati
For much of their nineteenth-century history, Mormons rejected the novel as worldly entertainment that corrupted the young and propagated offensive Mormon stereotypes. This changed, however, when Mormons began to recognize the form's potential for promoting social betterment, teaching wholesome moral values, and using its popular appeal to draw people to the Mormon fold.
Interestingly, this shift in attitude toward the novel came at a time when the Mormons, once a militantly separatist people, sought greater assimilation with the American mainstream by abandoning overt Utopian practices, like polygamy and communal living, for practices that would no longer alienate them from the nation's Protestant majority. In my dissertation, I explore the relationship between this transitional period and the development of the Mormon novel, arguing that Mormons embraced the novel as a cultural site for mediating their paradoxical desire to separate from and participate in the American mainstream. Indeed, I show how the novel allowed Mormons to express their Utopian principles—if not their Utopian practices—as mainstream America compelled them to take what I call a "post-Utopian" stance toward society. Moreover, I show how adopting the novel form also enabled Mormons to contribute to and engage American literary culture, construct Mormon identities, and explore their ambivalent encounters with others from inside and outside their ranks.
Throughout this study, I draw upon Utopian theory and Mormon history to understand the Mormon novel as a "post-Utopian" product of the ongoing challenges of Mormon assimilation into mainstream American society. Beginning with the first Mormon novels of the late-nineteenth-century, I track how Mormon writers have borrowed from and enriched the American novel in their efforts to preserve and promote Mormonism's Utopian principles, construct and define Mormon identities, and explore their ambivalent encounters with others. [from the author]