Faithful Transgressions In The American West

Faithful Transgressions In The American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women's Autobiographical Acts

Laura L. Bush
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 264
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    Faithful Transgressions In The American West
    Book Description:

    The central issue Bush finds in these works is how their authors have dealt with the authority of Mormon Church leaders. As she puts it in her preface, "I use the phrase 'faithful transgression' to describe moments in the texts when each writer, explicitly or implicitly, commits herself in writing to trust her own ideas and authority over official religious authority while also conceiving of and depicting herself to be a 'faithful' member of the Church." Bush recognizes her book as her own act of faithful transgression. Writing it involved wrestling, she states, "with my own deeply ingrained religious beliefs and my equally compelling education in feminist theories that mean to liberate and empower women." Faithful Transgressions examines a remarkable group of authors and their highly readable and entertaining books. In producing the first significant book-length study of Mormon women's autobiographical writing, Bush rides a wave of memoir publishing and academic interest in autobiography and other life narratives. As she elucidates these works in relation to the religious tradition that played a major role in shaping them, she not only positions them in relation to feminist theory and current work on women's life writings but ties them to the long literary tradition of spiritual autobiography.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-495-6
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Preface: Gender Trouble and My Hybrid Life
    (pp. XI-XVIII)
  5. Introduction: Autobiographical Constructions of the Mormon Self(s)
    (pp. 1-29)

    Mention the word “autobiography” to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the “Mormons,” and they will invariably offer you any number of unpublished autobiographical texts, many of which lie, mostly idle, in family members’ drawers, closets, attics, cedar chests, and safety deposit boxes. Other families, such as my own, self-publish books of life histories or diaries that include elaborate genealogies and photographs to accompany the narrative.¹ Soon after Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, officially established the church on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York, church members began producing a sizable number of daily journals, life...

  6. Chapter 1 Narrating Optimism, Faith, and Divine Intervention Mary Ann Hafen, Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: A Woman’s Life on the Mormon Frontier
    (pp. 30-54)

    The much-loved Mormon hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints,”¹ written in 1846 by English-born American William Clayton and sung by nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint men, women, and children during their pioneer trek west, captures the optimistic tone of Mary Ann Hafen’s Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: A Woman’s Life on the Mormon Frontier. The song’s hopeful refrain (“All is well! All is well!”) reflects Hafen’s attitude as she writes about the challenges that her newly converted family face when they emigrate from Switzerland to North America. The life story that she constructs about her subsequent experience as an industrious pioneer...

  7. Chapter 2 Defending and Condemning a Polygamous Life Annie Clark Tanner, A Mormon Mother
    (pp. 55-78)

    Why did some nineteenth-century Mormon women choose to become polygamous wives on the western frontier? One Mormon woman, Annie Clark Tanner, tries to answer that question in her twentieth-century autobiography, written when she was seventy-seven years old, half a century after the official church “Manifesto” that ended Mormon plural marriages (see appendix B). In her 1941 autobiography, Tanner is critical of her polygamous husband, Joseph Marion Tanner, and of Mormon polygamy in general. However, the manner in which she shapes her life story intends to prevent readers from making simplistic judgments about this controversial marriage practice or about her choice...

  8. Chapter 3 Truth Telling about a Temporal and a Spiritual Life Juanita Brooks, Quicksand and Cactus: A Memoir of the Southern Mormon Frontier
    (pp. 79-108)

    One of the best examples of a Mormon woman’s faithful yet transgressive life writing is Juanita Brooks’s Quicksand and Cactus: A Memoir of the Southern Mormon Frontier. Regrettably, Brooks ends her narrative when she was thirty-five years old, at the beginning of her second marriage and before she became famous for writing The Mountain Meadows Massacre (originally published in 1950), a meticulously researched history about how, in 1857, approximately one hundred California-bound pioneers were murdered by a group of Mormons and the American Indians the Mormons incited to assist them. The incident became a tragic blot that stained the history...

  9. Chapter 4 Remedying Race and Religious Prejudice Wynetta Willis Martin, Black Mormon Tells Her Story
    (pp. 109-144)

    Wynetta Willis Martin explains and defends her 1966 conversion to the Mormon Church in Black Mormon Tells Her Story, a spiritual autobiography written during a time when civil rights activists in the United States severely criticized the church for discriminating against its black members.¹ In 1972, Martin publishes the story of her conversion and experiences within a mostly white church for two main reasons. First, she wants to educate nonmembers about her new religion, urging them to examine any misinformation or misperceptions they may have about Mormons. Second, she wants her new Mormon sisters and brothers to see themselves in...

  10. Chapter 5 A Home Windswept with Paradox Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
    (pp. 145-170)

    During the late twentieth century, two Mormon women’s autobiographies gained widespread attention in the United States. Journalist Deborah Laake’s Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon Woman’s Intimate Diary of Marriage and Beyond became a “sizzling” New York Times best seller when it was published in 1993. Laake’s story offers readers access to “shocking” insider information about Mormon temple ceremonies and the “graphic” details of a disaffected Mormon woman’s sexual mis-education, depressions, divorces, and eventual departure from her Mormon faith.¹ In contrast to the sensationalism of Laake’s Secret Ceremonies, Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place captured the attention...

  11. Chapter 6 Training to Be a Good Mormon Girl While Longing for Fame Phyllis Barber, How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir
    (pp. 171-193)

    Even though Mormon autobiographer and professional writer Phyllis Barber grew up more than half a century after her Latter-day Saint forbears abandoned the practice of polygamy, she introduces the story of her Mormon childhood and adolescence in How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir with a comic scene that illustrates outsiders’ continuing fixation on Mormon plural marriage. Barber reconstructs the interchange between her eight-year-old self and four government rangers. The officers find her walking alone after a slumber party, hugging her teddy bear through the early morning streets of Boulder City, Nevada. Shaping dialogue between her and the four strangers,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 194-199)

    The Mormon women’s autobiographies that I examine in this study all repeat and revise the five conventions of Mormon autobiography begun with Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Each autobiographer depicts instances of God and the supernatural at work in her life. The various faith-promoting stories they tell testify to the autobiographers’ spiritual experiences. In addition, the six autobiographers write not only for the good of their posterity and for the sake of their Mormon community, but also for those outside the Mormon Church. As women authors, they take the opportunity to explain, defend, and critique Mormon doctrine and practices. In their...

  13. Appendix A: The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    (pp. 200-201)
    Joseph Smith
  14. Appendix B: Official Declaration 1
    (pp. 202-203)
  15. Appendix C: Official Declaration 2
    (pp. 204-205)
  16. Appendix D: The Family: A Proclamation to the World
    (pp. 206-207)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 208-227)
  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 228-236)
  19. Index
    (pp. 237-244)