by Sue Davy
Posted on June 6, 2017
Comments Off on May’s Book review “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff
The 19th Wife By David Ebershoff
By Jane Upperton
This book is set against the background of Mormonism (The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints) interlinked with polygamy. The book alternates between a contemporary story about modern polygamy and historical material. A couple of us who read the book weren’t keen on the two stories running side by side through the book e.g. a chapter of one story and a couple of chapters of another and both of us, after reading for some time skipped reading the modern story in favour of just reading the historical story about the origins of Mormonism, describing the founding of the Mormon Church by Prophet Joseph Smith and the recruitment of hundreds of followers ‘Saints’ by Mormon Missionaries from interstate and also London.
These people died in their hundreds in an ill prepared trek across America to the Promised Land, Salt Lake City in Utah, USA. Joseph Smith had a revelation somewhere along the way, which forced the first wives to agree to any subsequent wife that her husband wanted to marry, referred to as ‘celestial marriage’
The central character of this book, Ann Eliza is named as the 19th wife, though this was a somewhat arbitrary number, since her husband Brigham Young, the prophet of the Mormons at the time is cited to have had at least 57 wives. Ann Eliza was the child of two of the early disciples and was there when her father initially refused celestial marriage and then witnessed his taking of more wives causing distress to her mother.
Ann Eliza married and had two children, but then divorced her husband because he failed to support her.
The prophet Brigham Young had been interested in her since she was 10 years old and then used means of financial control to force her to marry him. He was many years older than her and she had no interest in being a plural wife. He mistreated her and her mother and she left him and escaped the polygamous community.
The book documents her subsequent crusade to end polygamy, claiming the practice to be harmful to wives and children. She went on tours speaking to packed houses describing her Mormon experiences, she met and talked to members of congress and the also to the president of the USA and she did accomplish her goal of outlawing plural marriage. Despite this, plural marriage still continues.
Strangely there remains a mystery as to what happened to Ann Eliza, she somehow vanished. Scholars of her stories have also found some parts of the account of her life to be conflictful. Fiction? Despite some questions about facts of the story, the ‘bones’ of it appear to be valid.
There is another book, which is of the same title and authored by Ann Eliza. Three of us considered that we would like to read this version.
As a matter of interest David Ebershoff is also the author of ‘The Danish Girl”