The Mormon Image in Literature Series: Some Scattered Thoughts

By March 21, 2017

Greg Kofford Books has been publishing a series on the Mormon image in nineteenth and early twentieth century dime novels for a few years now. The series, edited by Ardis Parshall and Michael Austin, provides a smart, scholarly framework in addition to reprinting books that are disappearing every year. WVS has provided an excellent overview of Kofford’s publicity event at By Common Consent, and because we attended the same event and took roughly the same notes, I thought that I would offer some initial thoughts about Greg Kofford Books, Parshall and Austin’s work, and some possible uses for the series in academic work.

Greg Kofford Books

The original texts that Parshall transcribed were books whose paper was roughly the thickness of newspaper. Any work to digitize the books required destroying the book’s spine. Kofford’s reproduction of these texts is a great service to Mormon literature and historical studies. In many cases, there are no other available copies to researchers. Scholars (and novel readers) should be grateful to Kofford for reproducing the texts and their commitment to produce more volumes in the future. Kofford Books fulfills an important role in the preservation and proliferation of Mormon history—I’m glad to see them also commit to publishing primary texts.

Parshall and Austin

Austin’s interest in Mormon dime novels led to the Mormon Image in Literature Series. His expertise is incredibly helpful for those that are interested in the novels as literature, not only as historical texts.

Parshall told those at the release event that the copy she read originally came to the LDS Church History Library via a library in South Africa. There’s very little chance that anyone but Parshall could have found the book. I don’t think that there is anyone with a greater knowledge of the Church History’s holdings. We, meaning anyone with any interest in Mormon history, are lucky to have her in our community and to count her as an expert and friend.

Academic Uses

I should start by saying that there are a lot of folks that would be interested in reading these novels just for fun. They’re chock-full of colorful dialogue and over-the-top stories about the dastardly acts and aims of the Mormons.That’s just fun.

Scholars could pursue a number of projects using the texts. The (male) Mormons in the stories are sexual predators that kidnap and bamboozle women into entering polygamy. How does that align or push back against with racialized Mormon images of polygamy?

Many of the stories feature subterranean tunnels in Salt Lake City and other Mormon strongholds. What could be read into the imagined existence of extended tunnel networks in the heart of Mormonism?

Many of the tropes used to describe Mormons and Mormonism follow the same script as anti-Irish, anti-Chinese, and anti-Jewish literature, although there are some differences. Where do descriptions of Mormons and Mormonism depart from these religious and racial groups? Were Mormons seen as unique or did writers employ the same racial scripts as other groups without deviation?

What else do you think scholars could use the books to explore?

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews

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