Notes From The CESNUR Conference at Salt Lake City Hall: Michael Homer

By June 12, 2009

Michael Homer, “Oriana Fallaci, Mormonism and Anti-Mormonism.” Michael Homer spoke this morning. I will have notes from Massimo Introvegne’s lecture later today as well as some notes and reflections from yesterday’s panel on the Temple Lot Church.

A new entry in anti-Mormon historical fiction. Some of the most enduring 19th century writing by famous authors of historical fiction includes Mormonism after the move to Utah and the announcement of polygamy.  The Mormon image was crafted by those who never visited Utah.

Terryl Givens has identified over 50 novels that used Mormonism as a plot device. Mormons’ polygamy was considered illicit sex and illicit sex sold books.  Eventually, prophet writers like Zane Gray wrote about Mormons in the West.

Works of these popular authors remained in print for decades after the deaths, their snapshots of Mormonism frozen in time.

Oriana Fallaci was a popular writer in Italy before her death in 2006. Fallaci joined the resistance movement in WWII, claimed to have run weapons past Germans on her bicycle.  She achieved worldwide fame in the 60s, as a war correspondent.  Special correspondent for leading newspapers, 7 years in Vietnam before being thrown out, she reported on revolutions in Latin America, while in Mexico, shot by police in demonstrations of the 1960 Olympics, etc.  As a war correspondent she developed a talent for interviewing famous people.

Fallaci wrote 13 books, translated into 20+ languages in 31 countries, she began what she hoped would be her magnum opus, writing of her family history.  Progress on this family history was interrupted by 9-11, then she published 3 anti-Islamic books. In 2004, wrote The Force of Reason, also 1 million copies in Italy.  She warned of the fall of the West from Islam.

In 2004, Fallaci interviews herself, she began to see Christianity as the only foil for terrorism.  She succumbed to cancer in 2006. Many younger Italians are only familiar with her anti-Islamic books written after 9-11. After her death, her family history was published. She’d devoted over a decade to it, it was unfinished at time of its publication.

In it is the story of a family member who travels to Utah and sees “first hand” the evils of polygamy.  In her book, Fallaci used Mormonism the same way other earlier authors used polygamy, as an interesting subplot.

She contacted Massimo Introvigne about Mormonism. He was surprised by the call. She didn’t explain why she wanted info about 19th century Mormons, but she wanted to tape record an interview on Mormon history immediately. He suggested to call him later and do the interview.  It lasted less than an hour, Introvigne suggested she contact me also. Soon thereafter she contacted me, saying she was interested in research on Mormonism.  She wanted to know why a small group of protestants would leave Italy to go to Utah.  I explained that John Taylor, Erastus Snow and Lorenzo Snow went to Europe to organize missions, including in Italy.

In 1850 Lorenzo Snow arrived in Italy and began his work among the Waldensians because he thought they were a remnant of the true church.  They were pre-Reformation Christians that left Catholicism in the 13th century and joined the Protestant Reformation in 1532.  Snow published tracts and received resistance from both Protestants and Catholics. A conservative catholic newspaper labeled Joseph Smith a new Mohammad and warned that the Mormons were attempting to convert the people and migrate them to Utah to be forced to practice polygamy.

Despite this war of words, about 200 Waldensians converted.  More than 70 emigrated. Most who converted were part of the revival movement.  Fallaci was pleased with this history. We also discussed Italian history, the Sargemento, which made possible the introduction of Mormon missionaries.

Fallachi’s observations of religion are instructive. A number of anti-Muslim remarks in the book give a grim picture of slavery under North African Muslims. Those enslaved by Islam had more chance to be tortured. She did not grow up religious, but after 9-11, she became convinced that Catholicism was the only hope for defense of the western tradition.

To the chagrin of her anticlerical family, she lent her papers and library to the church, but she never converted.

Fallaci’s grandmother was raised in a Waldensian family, and among them were converts to Mormonism.

Fallaci claims the use of family traditions. She claims her great grandmother, Anastasia was an illegitimate child and since illegitimate children were routinely taken to catholic school, her birth was not registered. So there is no record of her…Anastasia decides to go to Salt Lake City to join her relatives.  She realizes she will need to be polygamist, but no matter because she’s promiscuous anyway. Fallaci paints Mormonism in black and white, mostly black. She may have read some New Mormon History to avoid some of the most common errors.  Fallaci’s Mormonism is patriarchal, and polygamy reminds her of her main foe, Islam.  Finally, Anastasia she sees the light and leaves Salt Lake.  Fallaci says tradition says Anastasia became Madam at a San Francisco brothel.  She then leaves to Italy to find her lost child, tells her the tale and commits suicide.  Anastasia may not have even existed. Under the pen of such a marvelous writer, she is a great character, one readers will remember. Less memorable is her treatment of Mormonism.  She avoids the most classic mistakes, but uses traditional critiques.

Her illness prevented her from revising her book.  Her attitude changed over Catholicism, as her negative attitude toward Islam became an obsession after 911. The polygamy connection may have prevented her from experiencing a softer approach to Mormonism.


Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Fascinating. Elements kind of reminds my of Jeff Johnson’s review of working with Sally Denton.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 12, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

  2. Mike Homer has done wonderful work on Mormonism in Italy, Sherlock Holmes, Masonry, European visitors to Deseret in the 19th century, Mormonism in European literatures, and a slew of other topics. I’ll bet this was a fascinating paper to hear. You almost can’t say that he wasted his life by being a lawyer, as long as his literary and historical output has been as great as it is. [/tongue in cheek]

    Thanks for a great report, Jared.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 12, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  3. I appreciate the notes very much, Jared. Fascinating.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 12, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

  4. […] Elder Wood was the concluding speaker at the 2009 CESNUR conference. He delivered his address at a closing banquet at the Alta Club Saturday evening. Stay tuned for notes from eight more sessions from CESNUR. For now, don’t miss notes from Massimo Introvigne on Mormonism and Twilight in Italy and Michael Homer on Oriana Fallaci and Anti-Mormonism. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Notes From The CESNUR Conference: Elder Robert S. Wood (Second Quorum of the Seventy, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) — June 15, 2009 @ 11:44 am

  5. Did you mean “popular writers like Zane Gray” instead of “prophet writers like Zane Gray”?

    I love Sherlock Holmes, but I can’t bring myself to read A Study in Scarlet.

    Comment by Tom D — June 16, 2009 @ 1:11 am

  6. Haha, probably. I’ve said before, this is not an exact transcription. Good eye.

    Comment by Jared T — June 16, 2009 @ 1:25 am


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