Creating a Pseudo-history: The Myth of Mormons, Polygamy, and the Danites in Nineteenth-century Fiction
Salt Lake City, UT
The University of Utah
This thesis project aims to explore the Mormon myth perpetuated in the nineteenth century by comparing and contrasting two fictional works that treat Mormonism as the enemy of evolved Christian society and traditional Victorian family values. The first is Brigham Young’s Daughter: A Most Thrilling Narrative of Her Escape From Utah, With Her Intended Husband, Their Pursuit by the Mormon Danites or Avenging Angels, Together with An Account of the Adventures and Perils of the Fugitives on the Prairies and While Crossing the Rocky Mountains, To Which is Added A Full Exposé of the Schemes of the Mormon Leaders to Defy and Defeat the U.S. Government in Its Attempts to Suppress the Horrible Practice of Polygamy in Utah. The second is A Study in Scarlet. These works, created by two different authors from different national backgrounds (one American and one British), are written in two differing styles, and for differing purposes. However, the texts do share a common era as well as a moral conflict over Mormon polygamy as central to their plotlines and narrative development. The American text, written by Wesley Bradshaw in 1870, was created as political propaganda to support the legal campaign against Mormonism in the United States. As a result, it blurs the distinction between fact and fiction about Mormons and employs emotional images and language in an effort to incite public outrage against Mormon polygamy. The British text, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, utilized the sensational topic of Mormonism not only to entertain his readers, but also as a way to launch his new detective series in a market over-saturated with crime fiction in an effort to turn a profit. Despite the differences between texts, each draws similar conclusions with regard to Mormons and Mormonism. This project will argue that these similarities reflect and contribute to the creation of a distinct Mormon myth, which, over time, evolved to form a pseudo-history of Mormons in popular culture.