Blue-bearded Mormons = Honor Code Conniptions

By August 1, 2009

In my effort to understand Mormons’ cultural position by studying names applied to them, I recently encountered an unfamiliar epithet:bluebeard-plant-c-incana-lo

Bluebeard asks for a seat in the Senate. He stands with one hand locking the door of his chamber of horrors, and with the other he knocks for admission to the supreme legislative assembly of the foremost Christian republic of all time….

How large is the territory over which the Mormon Bluebeard exercises sway? …[two paragraphs describing the Great Basin] …The American Bluebeard rules over the American Potosi. [1]

The flower genus Caryopteris goes colloquially by “bluebeard” (See Figure 1: C. incana). So far as I know, however, no one compared Mormons to vicious flowers. The name “Bluebeard” comes from a French fairy-tale, “La Barbe-bleue [The Blue-beard],” that Charles Perrault published in 1697. [2] In the story, a young woman marries a rich nobleman despite his cerulean whiskers, which make him “frightful and ugly.” [3] Afterwards, he gives her all the keys, forbids her to enter one particular room, and leaves on (supposed) business. Then, as later made into a nursery rhyme (!)

At last she could no more refrain, and turned the little key,
And looked within, and fainted straight the horrid sight to see;
For there upon the floor was blood, and on the walls were wives,
For Bluebeard first had married them, then cut their throats with knives. [4]

In consternation, the latest wife drops the key on the bloody floor. Magically, the blood is still wet and the key keeps the blood stain, no matter her scouring. [5] Bluebeard returns to check his trap, discerns the breach via the blood-covered key, and attempts to kill yet another wife. She begs for, and he grants, a few minutes to pray, during which time the wife’s sister calls for aid. Not a moment too soon, her brothers arrive and kill Bluebeard, making her, as widow and sole heir, fabulously wealthy.

As with most fairy-tales, Perrault did not invent Bluebeard’s combination of serial monogamy and serial murder. Similar stories come from cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. [6] Details differ, sometimes widely, but despite the variations—or rather, as evidenced by them—the story draws from deep roots in Western and Middle-Eastern culture. Bluebeard’s un-named last wife retreads a path long-travelled by Lot’s un-named wife, Pandora, Psyche, Eve, and other females who gave license to “dangerous” feminine curiosity. [7] Bluebeard joins the angels that visited Lot, Epimetheus, Cupid, Adam, and other males of mythic antiquity who tried and failed to protect a secret.

In the 19th century, Anglo-Americans frequently told children of Perrault’s blue-follicled tyrant and alluded to him and the nameless wife in conversation. For examples: Joseph Smith, campaigning for president in 1844, charged that “wicked and designing men ha[d] unrobed the Government of its glory” to the extent that “the very name of Congress…is as horrible…as the house of ‘Bluebeard’ is to children. [8] In 1873 the New York Times described a wife-murderer as “A Modern Bluebeard.” [9] Such examples are easily multiplied: to nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans, “Bluebeard” required neither introduction nor explanation. [10]

By the turn of the twentieth century, however, Bluebeard had begun to fade from Anglo-American popular culture; as fairy-tales completed the transition from adult to child entertainment begun two centuries earlier, editors and authors dropped the story from children’s collections.[11] (Whew. I feel better about not knowing the reference.) The story continued, though not always with the “Bluebeard” name, and later in the twentieth century resurged in media for adults.[12]

Figure 2: Engraving of Bluebeard giving key to his wife. Walter Crane, 1874

Now to Mormons: anti-Mormon authors and lectors applied “Bluebeard” to Mormons in at least two ways. First, some authors used “Bluebeard” as a synonym for “polygamist.” In this guise, Brigham Young and Bluebeard often appeared as counterparts, the one poly-wived, the other poly-widowered; the one fantastic, the other real. Such usage usually functioned as maintenance othering rather than polemic.[13] For example:

A long procession of Eastern sight-seekers…pay[s] as much respect to Brigham as to the Grand Turk. …It is truly queer to see that fine Boston belle…shake hands with the bland old Bluebeard, whose honeymoons have been more numerous than her years.[14]

The allusion, though clearly not favorable, does not aggressively assert that Young killed multiple wives. A burlesque operetta, “Bluebeard, or, the Mormon, the Maiden and The Little Militaire,” played the association for both humor and melodrama—and popular success.[15] The following 1886 cartoon (Figure 3), entitled, “Hit ’em Again,” also demonstrates such half-comic, half-vicious usage:

Figure 3: “Hit ‘Em Again” by D Bac, The Judge, 1886 Jan 09, p1.

The crusading knight, Senator Edmunds, wields the “Edmunds Bill” against the Middle-Eastern “Mormon Bluebeard” with his “Polygamy” club in front of the “Mormon Castle.”[16] Unlike many other representations, here the Mormon is pudgy, old, and befuddled rather than vicious and threatening.

Second, as the opening example shows, anti-Mormons connected the “Bluebeard” story and Mormons directly: Mormons feigned respectability and friendliness but secretly murdered dissidents and abused women in a “secret chamber.” Relatively late (1899), one anti-Mormon brought two monster motifs together, the Mormo and the Bluebeard:

Scholars think and affirm that, the term “Mormon” is of Greek origin. That the word “Mormo,” from which it is derived means, “a monster,” a “female spectre,” “a bugaboo,” a “hobgoblin” — kinder, a raw head and bloody bones affair, with a strong hint of a Blue-Beard attachment.[17]

Despite the anti-Mormon usage, Mormons did not seem to avoid Bluebeard. In addition to the Joseph Smith quote cited above, the uxoricidal maniac appeared in Mormon newspapers and on Mormon stages.[18] Later, some Utahans expressed concern over the story’s appropriateness for children, joining the nation-wide decline in favor for the tale.[19] Further, like many of their contemporaries, some Mormons interpreted the story as a caution against the dangers of feminine curiosity.

The interesting family of Lot should next occupy our attention, and much might be said on the inquisitive propensities of Lot’s wife, who like Fatima in the castle of Blue Beard must indulge just one peep in the forbidden regions—the consequence in both cases resulting in much general good, though apparently disastrous to the chief actresses at the time.[20]

Besides supplementing scripture and derogating polygamists, Bluebeard came to embody stereotyped “Oriental” characteristics; Mormonism also found itself thus situated. Though Perrault set his story in France, an influential staging by George Colman in 1798 set the tale in Turkey with Bluebeard as Abomelique and supporting characters such as Ibrahim and Selim.[21] Many later plays and books followed suit.[22] Even when the artists did not explicitly change the setting, Asiatic stereotypes appeared in the illustrations (see Figures 4, 5, and 7)—sometimes mixing Euro-American and Asian hairstyles and clothing without explanation (Figure 5).[23] The same pattern applied to Mormons.[24] For example, Brigham Young is associated with the “Grand Turk” in one of the quotes above and references to “the bastard Mohammedanism invented by Joseph Smith” appeared frequently.[25] Portraying groups as Oriental or Islamic figured prominently in nineteenth-century othering.[26] Such depictions created rhetorical space between White, Protestant Americans and both Mormons and Muslims. They also mutually impugned the character of both religions and connected American cultural conceptions to global trends, thus countering the universalizing strains in both.[27]

Bluebeard’s appeal as a rhetorical spear derived from the familiarity of the story, its deep cultural roots, and the close fit between it and Mormonism’s perceived character. I have already described the popularity and roots; I now turn to the parallels.

As noted, both Mormons and Bluebeard tended to be imagined as Middle-Eastern. Part of the stereotype was that the Asian was inscrutable and duplicitous. Mormons and Bluebeard fit the stereotype well. Mormonism’s colonizing and missionary success and Bluebeard’s courting success demonstrated to the Protestant mind that both most demonstrate amazing powers of dissimulation—since no one in their right mind would associate with either. In particular, anti-Mormons harped on the contradictions in the Mormon claim of patriotic loyalty simultaneous with their violation of anti-polygamy law. In the 1880s through 1910s many polemicists argued that Mormon promises to discard or to have discarded polygamy as a condition of statehood were made in bad faith. Like Bluebeard or the supposed “Oriental,” the Mormon would smile and promise conformity while “locking the door of his chamber of horrors.”[28]

If modern analysis is to be relied upon, sexuality flows beneath (and sometimes quite near) the surface of a great deal of 19th-century media. Blue could symbolize inhuman coldness and unnatural feelings while the beard, associated with the goat and Satan, could symbolize natural power, magical power (à la Sampson), bestiality, and sexuality. Therefore, a blue-colored beard connoted unnatural sexuality with possibly mystic powers.[29] Along the same lines, the key could be interpreted as phallic and the entry to the forbidden chamber the gaining of sexual experience, with the indelible blood on the key representing the hymeneal blood on the penis after the irrevocable passing of virginity.[30]

Unlike many other fairy tales, Bluebeard does not end with a marriage and then happily-ever-after; it begins with the marriage, and the after is terrifying. For the male, marriage possibly meant having the female explore parts of his emotional life that he preferred to leave unexamined and having to deal with the generally greater range and lability of female emotion, or at least its expression. The female faced the possibilities of emotional isolation; physical, sexual, and/or emotional violence; and possible (or likely) death in childbirth. The male thus feared the violation of his “secret chamber” and the vexations of a “disobedient” wife trying to assert some control over her own destiny in an asymmetric power arrangement. The female feared the uncertainty represented by the “secret chamber” and the prospect of the various types of violence that the husband had power to inflict upon her, embodied by the bloody corpses.

That sexual deviance, anxiety, and imagery drove much of the non-Mormon response to Mormonism and pervaded the rhetorical treatments is an understatement of “The Awesome Power of Sex” in the nineteenth century.[31] Thus, Bluebeard fit well with the body of anti-Mormon rhetoric.

Another aspect of the Protestant polemic was that Mormonism preyed on gullible women. Newspaper report after newspaper report emphasized and exaggerated the number of female converts to Mormonism while novel after novel portrayed young innocents wooed and betrayed into captivity as a Mormon house-whore. Much of the discussion focused on “freeing” the women and punishing the tyrannical men. The cautionary tale of Bluebeard’s last wife addressed these concerns. If women gave into feminine curiosity they would be led into the “secret chamber” of the Mormon temple where they would discover Mormonism’s true nature. Then, if they disobeyed or tried to escape the Danites would kill them.

If the temple is the secret chamber and the convert woman’s husband is Bluebeard, the strict comparison breaks down, since she is not forbidden to enter the temple. It is only a slight variation, however, to go into the secret chamber and find multiple other wives who were spiritually and emotionally brutalized or dead because of the (presumed) evils of polygamy. If Mormonism itself is the secret chamber, then mainstream America is Bluebeard, forbidding the young woman to enter, but then not punishing her if she escapes. The story might also be applied to non-convert visitors to Utah; the Mormons (Bluebeard) forbid entry to closed Mormon society; those who disobeyed and tried to penetrate the cultural walls with outside education or business or whatever were (supposedly) killed by Danites.

The parallel might also include other characters in Perrault’s version of the story. The female missionaries and crusaders play the role of the sister in the tower calling for help. White, Protestant American males, playing the brothers, were, in the crusaders’ view, to take literal and metaphorical arms to go save their degraded and endangered sisters.[32] The wife’s prayers for deliverance or forgiveness would be answered by the righteously indignant nation, which would punish Mormon men but forgive Mormon women and restore them to health and vitality, as the last wife is saved and forgiven for her disobedience.

Perrault’s closing images of the sister’s marriage to a beau who had “loved her a long while” illustrates another point of compatibility. Perrault has the sisters marrying for love, contrary to the typical necessity, at that time, of marrying for money or politics. Thus, the Bluebeard story elevates a conception of companionate marriage and romantic love against the conventional form.[33] The Mormon case parallels in that romantic love is elevated above the Mormon norm (loosely defined) of marriage as a spiritual obligation, an investment in eternity with the primary emotional attachment not between husband and wife and lacking the tumultuous and spirit-offending passions of mainstream relationships. For all its brutality, the story of Bluebeard, in the end, elevates romantic monogamy over violence and much-marrying—two signal aspects of the assigned Mormon identity.

I am reasonably confident that nineteenth-century readers and tale-tellers and polemicists did not examine the story as a point-by-point analogy for the Mormon case. We have already seen how many authors used Bluebeard as a simple stand-in for polygamy, never mind his monogamy. However, with the story’s cultural roots and familiarity combined with Victorian sexual anxiety, they didn’t need to. It resonated without analysis, tapping into fears and horrors felt since childhood. It was a remarkable rhetorical tool, bringing together various elements from contemporary culture and placing Mormonism firmly outside the realm of normalcy, decency, and capability of good-faith negotiation. Mormonism, like Bluebeard, called for nothing less than annihilation.

Figure 4: Horace E Scudder, editor, The Children’s Book: A Collection of the Best and Most Famous Stories and Poems in the English Language (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company: 1883), 115.

Figure 5: Josiah Gilbert Holland, Bitter-sweet: A Poem, illustrated by Elias James Whitney (New York: Charles Scribner, 1867), 173.

Figure 6: Gustave Doré engraving of Bluebeard deliving the key and prohibition, Les Contes de Perrault, dessins par Gustave Doré (Paris: Didot et Hetzel, 1862), Wikipedia.

Figure 7: Engraving of Bluebeard about to kill his wife, the sister on the tower, and the brothers rushing to the rescue. By Clouzier from original (Perrault, 1697; Wikipedia). Note the curved blade, possibly suggesting a scimitar, but perhaps just a cutlass.

[1] Joseph Cook, “Disloyal Mormonism,” speech, Boston, in Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, The Great West: Its Attractions and Resources… (Bloominton, IL: Charles R Brodix, 1880). 330-1. Potosí is a city in Bolivia and the site of huge silver deposits; a large portion of the silver that the Spanish took from South America in the 16th through 18th centuries came from Potosí.

Cook reused these ideas and words. For example: [T]here exists in the Basin States and Territories an American Bluebeard’s chamber, full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. For twenty-five years the American Bluebeard has been standing with one hand on the locked door of his chamber of horrors, and with the other has been knocking for admittance to a place among the legislators of the foremost Christian republic on earth. Bluebeard wants a seat in the Senate. He is becoming importunate. [¶]As to the pest-house ruled by the American Bluebeard, Mr. Beecher says, ‘Hands off.’ President Arthur says, ‘Hands on.’ [Applause.]” Joseph Cook, lecture in Boston, 1884 Feb 11, reprinted in “Joseph Cook on the Plan Recommended by President Arthur,” “Reorganization of the Legislative Power of Utah Territory,” 48th Congress, 1st Session, House of Representatives, Report 1351, part 2, p24 in Speech of Hon. Joseph D. Taylor, of Ohio in the House of Representatives, Friday, February 1, 1884 (Washington: no publisher listed, 1884); “[T]the Mormon Bluebeard has Congressional aspirations already.” Joseph Cook, quoted in No author listed, “Mormon Pointers,” Home Mission Monthly 5 no 10 (1891 Aug):221-2.

[2] In the original the title is written, La Barbe-bleüe. Charles Perrault, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (Paris: Barbin, 1697).

[3] “frightful and ugly” = si laid et si terrible. Perrault (1697). The translator of the most frequent used English translation is unknown. The first instance I’ve found comes from 1836, but the editor explicitly indicates that he used a previous translation. (That is, he identifies titles in the table of contents that had been “expressly translated for this work” and “Blue Beard” was not one of them.) John Smith, ed., The Fairybook: Illustrated with Cuts on Wood, JA Adams, illustrator (New York: Harper, 1836), 25-32. In Amusing Prose Chap-Books, Chiefly of the Last Century (London: Hamilton, Adams; Glasgow: Thomas D Morison, 1889), Robert Hayes Cunningham included the common English translation but without indicating which chapbook(s) or date(s), though, presumably they came from the 18th century. The first significant English translation seems to have come from one Robert Samber in Charles Perrault and Marie-Jeanne, L’Héritier de Villandon, Histories, or tales of past times, Robert Samber, translator (London: J Pote and R Montagu, 1729). The text I quote comes from Robert Ford, Children’s Rhymes, Children’s Games, Children’s Songs, Children’s Stories: A Book for Bairns and Big Folk, 2nd edition, illustrated by Kate T. Hill (Paisley, Scotland: Alexander Gardner, 1904), 183-90 [183].

[4] The versifier is anonymous. The text accompanied the engravings of Walter Crane in The Bluebeard Picture Book (London: Routledge, 1875) but I actually retrieved the images from The Sleeping Beauty Picture Book: Containing The Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, The Baby’s Own Alphabet (New York: Dodd, Mead, no date).

In a sequel spoof, WM Thackeray has the naïve surviving wife remember Bluebeard fondly, explaining that “the inconsolable husband” had had the wives’ bodies embalmed “in order that on this side of the grave he might never part from them.” As proof of innocence she cites his written expressions of grief when his wives died of such maladies as a “sore throat” and a “complaint of the head and shoulders.” William Makepeace Thackeray, “Bluebeard’s Ghost,” Early and Late Papers Hitherto Uncollected (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867), 63-94 [65-6].

[5] In Perrault, she finds mutilated bodies hanging on the wall; in other versions she finds various arrangements for preservation and presentation, from carefully mounted and labeled heads to mutilated corpses piled without order.

[6] Maria Tatar, Secrets beyond the Door, The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 14. The first chapter is available at the Princeton Press website.

[7] In Perrault, the wife is never identified by name, though her sister is (Anne); in later versions the wife is often named Fatima. Lot’s wife is not identified by name before the eighth century, CE. In that period, Jewish scholars posited that her name was “Irit” or “Idit” or, with less scholarly authority, “Ildreth.”

[8] Joseph Smith, “Joe Smith’s Position,” dated 1844 Feb 07, New York Herald 10 no 138 (1844 May 17). The text reappeared occasionally in Mormon periodicals, e.g., Deseret News 1851 Aug 19, vol 1 no 39 p3.

[9] No author listed, “A Modern Bluebeard,” New York Times, 1873 Jun 20, p4. “Fairy-tale anthologies from the nineteenth century suggest that the story of Bluebeard was once at least as prominent a tale type as ‘Beauty and the Beast.'” Tatar, Secrets, 13, 54-5. The story outline also found frequent expression in such guises as Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) and The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux), with their mysterious males, secret chambers, and in Eyre‘s case, still living wife.

[10] More than twenty theatrical or operatic “Bluebeard” adaptations played in the US and UK during the century. William Davenport Adams, “Blue Beard,” A Dictionary of the Drama, Volume 1, A-G, (Boston: JB Lippincott, 1904), 176-177. Examples of books include: JR Planché, translator, Four and Twenty Fairy-Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers (London, New York: Routledge, 1858), 3-7; Josiah Gilbert Holland, Bitter-sweet: A Poem, illustrated by Elias James Whitney (New York: Charles Scribner, 1867), 170-190; Horace E Scudder, editor, The Children’s Book: A Collection of the Best and Most Famous Stories and Poems in the English Language (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company: 1883), 114-7; Andrew Lang, editor, Perrault’s Popular Tales (Oxford: Clarendon, 1888); Author of “Zit and Xoe” [Henry Curwen], Lady Bluebeard: A Novel (New York: Harper, 1889); Charles Perrault, The Story of Bluebeard, illustrated by Joseph E Southall (London: Lawrence and Bullen; Chicago: Stone and Kimball, 1895).

[11] Tatar, Secrets, 13. Near the turn of the twentieth century one Robert Ford lamented the passing of such tales. He recalled that “they were so familiar fifty years ago that the books on occasions could be dispensed with, and the elder members of families would recite the stories from memory for the delectation of the younger fry….” He also conceded, however, that the stories were “not yet unknown, though familiar to city children in the present generation mainly in their variegated and fantastic Christmas pantomime form.” Robert Ford, Children’s Rhymes, Children’s Games, Children’s Songs, Children’s Stories: A Book for Bairns and Big Folk, 2nd edition, illustrated by Kate T. Hill (Paisley, Scotland: Alexander Gardner, 1904), 6. The decline seemed to be grassroots at first; the story did not disappear from children’s books until the mid-twentieth century.

[12] Though “Bluebeard” declined as a name, the motif found and finds frequent expression in twentieth- and twenty-first-century media. See Tatar, Secrets; Wikipedia’s “List of adaptations of Bluebeard” entry [accessed 2009 Jul 25]; and (for a concise overview) Amy Lee Bell, “Tall, Dark and Deadly: The Fairytale Bluebeard as Icon of Evil in Modern Story,” 8th Global Conference Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness, 2007 Mar 19-23, Salzburg, Austria. Perhaps the most famous of 20th-century adaptations  is the opera “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” [Hungarian: A kékszakállú herceg vára] by Béla Bartók with libretto by Béla Balázs, first performed, 1918.

[13] “If he goes on as he has begun, he hardly can fail to become either a Blue Beard or a Brigham Young.” Review of Trotty’s Wedding Tour by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (Boston: Osgood, 1873) in Mary Mapes Dodge, ed., “Books for Boys and Girls,” St. Nicholas 1 no 3 (1874 Jan): 174; “John, succeeded as third Baronet. He is called in the family Sir John Bluebeard, because he had four wives, not of course at once, like Brigham Young.” Walter Riddell Carre, edited by James Tait, Border Memories, Or, Sketches of Prominent Men and Women of the Border (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1876), 189; “Bluebeard is melodrama in the sphere of imagination just as Brigham Young is melodrama in the region of actuality.” William Patrick O’Ryan, The Plough and the Cross: A Story of New Ireland (Point Loma, CA: Aryan Theosophical Press, 1910; reprinted from The Irish Nation, 1910), 266.

[14] George Alfred Townsend, The Mormon Trials at Salt Lake City (New York: American News Company, 1871) p7.

[15] HB Farnie adapted the operetta from Jacques Offenbach’s opera, “Bluebeard” but, while Offenbach followed the traditional story, Farnie added Mormons and Chinese. It played more than 420 times in the US in the 1870s. William Davenport Adams, “Blue Beard,” A Dictionary of the Drama, Volume 1, A-G, (Boston: JB Lippincott, 1904), 176-177; Megan Sanborn Jones, Performing American Identity in Anti-Mormon Melodrama (New York: Routledge, 2009), 149-50; Jacques Offenbach, composer, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, librettists, “Barbe-Bleue [Bluebeard],” [parallel French and English text], translated by Charles Lamb Kenney (London: J Mitchell, Royal Library, 1869). First performed in Paris, 1866 Feb 05; performed in New York in 1870.

[16] Many polemicists portrayed Mormons (and other targets) as Middle-Eastern; more on “Orientalization” below. D Mac, “Hit ‘Em Again,” The Judge, 1886 Jan 09, p1. For discussion see Gary L. Bunker and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834-1914: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), 118-120.

[17] RB Neal, “Anti-Mormon Tracts, — No. 5. The Stick of Ephraim vs. The Bible of the Western Continent; or The Manuscript Found, vs The Book of Mormon. Part II” (pamphlet; Grayson, KY, 1899), 4. The specific demon Mormo and the generic demons called mormos were explicitly female and attacked children. The specific demon, Mormo, started out human but killed and ate her own children. There is, thus, a degree of analogy between Mormo and Bluebeard, but I think Neal overplays his etymology; see my earlier post on Mormo.

[18] [Two women conversing in a short story; the not-quoted thinks poorly of the quoted’s husband: “…I was busy planning a little unromantic hot supper for my Blue Beard—especially a lemon pudding, of which I knew he was particularly fond.” No author listed, “Miscellaneous: A Fire-side Story (concluded),” Deseret News, 1867 Feb 20, p3; Program for concert includes “Shadow Pantomime, ‘Blue Beard.'” No author listed, “Salmagundi Concert,” The Daily Enquirer 4 no 142, Provo City, UT, 1891 Nov 16, p1. “One of the first dramatic companies [in Cache County]…performed in the old log school building know as the Old Hall, and they played, “Bluebeard,” “Rent Day,” “The Bar Room,” “Ben Bolt” and “Rough Diamond.” At first they used a bedspread for a curtain on the stage.” DE Robinson, MR Hovey, Frank Daines, An Early History of Cache County (Logan, UT: Logan Chamber of Commerce, 1923) as reproduced on website prepared by Rodney J Sorensen from typescript prepared by Ellen Bickmore for the Historic Records Survey, Federal Writers Projects, Works Progress Administration, 1936 Dec.

[19] “The old question has been lately asked anew, Why fill the infant mind with images of cruelty and horror? …Why permit the hoary murderer Blue Beard to terrify the young before in historical sequence they reach Henry VIII, in no extenuating page of Freude, but as the grisly murderer and defender of the faith of the older annals?” No author listed, “An Old Questions Asked Anew,” The Daily Enquirer 6 no 86, Provo City, UT, 1892 Sep 12, p4. “I am asked if I am in favor of telling children fairy stories. …I do not think it wise or necessary to tell such things to the children of Latter-day Saints. …What if there is a moral in the tale of Bluebeard! That is small excuse for making every child a coward and filling hours of happy childhood with grim visions of horror and bloody strife.” Frances M Richards, “In Woman’s Sphere,” Deseret News 1892 Nov 12, p25.

[20] A. B. C’s, “Women of the Bible,” lecture delivered in Manti, UT, 1889 Dec 06, as printed in The Women’s Exponent 18 no 17 (1890 Feb 01): 136.

[21] George Colman, “Blue-beard, or Female Curiosity!” (London: Cadhill and Davies, 1798).

[22] George Colman, Blue-beard, or Female Curiosity! Stage-play (London: Cadhill and Davies, 1798); Josiah Gilbert Holland, Bitter-sweet: A Poem, illustrated by Elias James Whitney (New York: Charles Scribner, 1867), 170-190; Horace E Scudder, editor, The Children’s Book: A Collection of the Best and Most Famous Stories and Poems in the English Language (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company: 1883), 114-7; Lady Bluebeard: A Novel by the author of “Zit and Xoe” [Henry Curwen] (New York: Harper, 1889). Note particularly the illustrations in Scudder (115) and Holland (173).

[23] Horace E Scudder, editor, The Children’s Book: A Collection of the Best and Most Famous Stories and Poems in the English Language (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company: 1883), 114-7 [115]; Josiah Gilbert Holland, Bitter-sweet: A Poem, illustrated by Elias James Whitney (New York: Charles Scribner, 1867), 170-190 [173].

[24] Timothy Marr, The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[25] George Alfred Townsend, The Mormon Trials at Salt Lake City (New York: American News Company, 1871) p7. Leonard Bacon, “What Are You Going to Do About It,” in Jennie Anderson Froiseth, ed., The Women of Mormonism, or The Story of Polygamy as Told by the Victims Themselves (Detroit, MI: CGG Paine, 1887, orig. 1881), 303-11 [305-6].

[26] “In the two decades before P. T. Barnum’s death in 1891 the street processions of his hippodromes and circuses annually titillated hundreds of thousands of rural and urban Americans with glimpses of an exotic Orient. By the end of the period, the parades included wild Moors, herds of elephants, and pony floats representing Bluebeard and Sinbad.” Bluford Adams, “‘A Stupendous Mirror of Departed Empires’: The Barnum Hippodromes and Circuses, 1874-1891,” American Literary History 8 (1996): 34.

[27] Timothy Marr, The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 185-218. In addition to the Orientalism, Bluebeard also seems to have made at least one appearance in blackface. Morton Williams, “Blue Beard in a Black Skin: An Operatic Absurdity,” performed in Norwich, 1875 Jun, listed in William Davenport Adams, “Blue Beard,” A Dictionary of the Drama, Volume 1, A-G, (Boston: JB Lippincott, 1904), 176-177.

[28] Joseph Cook, “Disloyal Mormonism,” speech, Boston, in Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, The Great West: Its Attractions and Resources… (Bloominton, IL: Charles R Brodix, 1880). 330-1.

[29] Heidi Anne Heiner, “The Annotated Bluebeard,”, 1998 Dec, updated 2007 Jun 28; Tatar, Secrets, 18-20; Marina Warner, “Bluebeard’s Brides: The Dream of the Blue Chamber,” Grand Street 9 no 1 (1989 Autumn): 121-130.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Charles A. Cannon, “The Awesome Power of Sex: The Polemical Campaign against Mormon Polygamy,” The Pacific Historical Review 43 no 1 (1974 Feb): 61-82.

[32] Tatar, Secrets, 60-63.

[33] Heiner, “The Annotated Bluebeard.”

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. As regular readers have probably noticed, my recent posts reflect my ongoing, pressed-for-time research. Hence the length. The blog posts provide nice, bite-sized, not-paralyzingly-big chunks for me to work on. Plus, there’s feedback.

    Thanks for slogging through (or skimming or whatever).

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 1, 2009 @ 12:48 am

  2. This is great Edje. Sorry if I missed this, but how prevalent was the Bluebeard application to Mormonism and how well-know was the Bluebeard story in the culture as a whole?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — August 1, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  3. Steve: In the nineteenth century US among White, literate, EFL speakers, my impression is that familiarity with the Bluebeard story approached universal. I suspect it was pretty common among illiterates also; that was the pattern in Scotland and England, anyway. There were/are African-American/slave and Carribbean versions of the story, but I don’t recall offhand if they use the name “Bluebeard.” I vaguely recall the Jamaican incarnation having an orange beard.

    Sliding into the twentieth century, however, Bluebeard = polygamist seems to prevail, though the story continued to appear on stage and in books (including children’s) well into the twentieth century.

    As to prevalence… I didn’t have any trouble finding Bluebeard/Mormon conjunctions from the 1880s to 1910s. I conjecture that this timing reflects Mormons’ approach toward respectibility—the polemic emphasis shifted from the bloody corpses to the deceptive marriage.

    Though it was easy to find references, compared to body of Mormon and anti-Mormon literature, I found relatively few Bluebeards.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 1, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  4. Wonderful, Edje. This was so enjoyable to read. Love the footnotes, love the pics. It’s always amazing to me how much we miss when we are not familiar with the cultural literacy of a particular period. This really helps to bring that point home.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — August 1, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

  5. You’re writing your dissertation??? That’s the reason for all these magnificent blog posts???

    Should we be encouraging you to finish your research rather than applauding your interesting and witty gems?

    Very interesting and very well-footnoted, by the way. Academic, but not unreadable.

    Comment by Researcher — August 4, 2009 @ 8:23 am

  6. BIV: Thanks. Reading through the various documents reminds me, in a way, of my mission. At first I thought/felt Brazilians were completely different from me/Americans; after a bit I thought/felt that they were just like me/my familiars; then, after about eighteen months (when I could understand what the girls on the street said to us as we walked by), I thought/felt that we really were all human and thus fundamentally the same, but some things really were different.

    Researcher: Thanks. Not a dissertation, just a thesis. And, yes, it probably would be better if I could get myself to write consistently without the extra three steps blogging adds to the process (write in semi-non-academic form, translate to html, translate to acadamese). But, it’s not happening right now, so the blog-posts continue. Future installments* (all starting with “Mormons and…”):
    —Octopuses, Spiders, Leviathans, and tentacled beasts
    —Sepoys vs Sheiks vs Turks vs Sultans
    —Horses, dogs, cars, and Halloween costumes

    In the end, I hope to bake it all into a PhD-admission-gaining cake situating late-19C Mormons in a global Anglophone imperialist context and the attendant “pan-Caucasian” and “tribe-to-team” boundary shifts.

    [*Everything south of the first asterisk is tentative, provisional, non-guaranteed, non-waranteed, and otherwise unreliable.]

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 4, 2009 @ 12:35 pm


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