Perspectives on Parley Pratt’s Autobiography: Adriane Rodrigues on Pratt’s use of Literary Voice

By August 3, 2009

[This is the fourth post in the Perspectives on Parley Pratt’s Autobiography series. Adriane Rodrigues Coelho was baptized nearly 23 years ago. She is married to Ricardo Choairy Coelho and they have four children. She received her B.A. degree in English Language and Literature from Faculdade de Letras, of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, in 2000. After working for 15 years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language for primary students in her country, she dedicated herself to her graduate program. In 2006 she received her M.A. degree from the same University. Her thesis Ordinary Accounts of Extraordinary Value: Mormon Pioneer Women?s Life Writings was a pioneering effort on Mormon Studies in Brazil. During the Summer Seminar on the Pratts, she wrote “Parley Pratt’s Ready Pen and Satire.” Her future projects include further research in the field.]

Parley Pratt?s high command of the English Language as well of the use of some of his notable literary skills are even expanded in chapters 33 and 34 when he describes his runaway from prison in Missouri. In those chapters, P. Pratt offers his reader stylistic innovation through which he provides his tale with liveness, fluidity and a dramatic –if not epic — tone. My aim is not to underestimate the historical value of his account, but rather to value its literary refinement. For this purpose, I would like to highlight some aspects which caught my attention in the very first reading, such as: point of view, (a)story(ies) inside the story, tone, metalanguage, and the narrator/ reader relationship.

Throughout his account of the escape from prison in Missouri and the subsequent events in which he and his fellowmen got involved, Parley Pratt shifts from using the 1st person narrator– which allows him to focus on his own experiences, opinions, feelings, and on his personal perceptions of a particular episode/ character in the story — to a 3rd person omniscient narrator, through which he tells what happened at the same time with his associates, describes what their views of the world, their feelings, even their thoughts were. E.g.: he plays with language variation while reproducing Mr. Phelps? conversation with the horsemen in pursuit of the prisoners (note that Pratt was not an eyewitness, but was merely reporting on what he have been told afterwards); at a certain point he refers to himself as he/his/him; he intrudes on his wife?s feelings and thoughts (?The suspense and anguish of her aching bosom now became intolerable. . .?), etc. Such a shift in point of view allows the narrator to enhance the dramaticality of his account more effectively than a plain report of facts would do.

Because of his choice to tell the story from different perspectives, Parley Pratt provides his reader with a frame story, which is in fact his autobiographical account, 1st person narrated. From this frame story, he invites the reader to accompany him through time and space towards other perspectives, not however without making it clear to him/her — who becomes also aware of the implications of such a shift: the reader is constantly reminded of the various instances of the narrative. Pratt establishes a very close relationship — a kind of complicity — with his reader whom he addresses directly, e.g.: ?In this happy valley the reader may leave me to rest awhile if he chooses, while he look at the fate of the other prisoners . . .?; ?We must now return with our readers to the prison at Colombia. . .?; ?We now leave him in his lonesome prison . . .while we get Sister Phelps out of trouble she was in?; ?And here I might as well inform the anxious reader of the final liberation of the two remaining prisoners . . .?, etc.

By doing that, not only does the writer manage to superimpose the various levels of the narrative, through cuts and interferences as he takes the reader back and forth, but also to improve the tone, to risen the action in the various levels and to finally provide a resolution, always reminding his audience that ultimately he is the one who knows and who is telling the story.

No doubt Parley Pratt was aware of his role as a story teller. His choices were not accidental, his text not merely playful. Every and each choice he made while constructing his account was conscious. He was not only willing to tell the story but also to grant legitimacy to it. E.g.:

In the end of chapter 33, he writes:

And should any of our readers have the curiosity to see the charming couple, whose singular courtship and history run through and make a principal thread of our narrative, they will call at the little town of Augusta, a few miles from Fort Madison, Iowa Territory, and inquire for ?Luman and Phila,? who were living there in quite at the last accounts.

In the middle of chapter 34, P. Pratt dedicates a long paragraph to justify his minor lies — which he describes as ?not strictly true in all its points?, resorting to some biblical passages including David?s many dissemblances to save his own life. In the end of the paragraph he authoritatively restates his divine role as he subdues he judges

That may be, says the objector, but who believes it? I answer, one hundred people believe me in the days of my trouble and humility where one believed David. And well they may; for I have a greater work to accomplish than he ever had. But the world may blame unjustly. I care not a straw for their judgment. I have one only that I serve, and him only do I fear. The hypocrite who censures me may yet be placed under similar circumstances, and then judge ye how he would act.

From this point on, P. Pratt?s narrative returns to its original autobiographic format.

Indeed, Parley Pratt was an ?ingenious? master in the art of Rhetoric.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Origins Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Cultural History


  1. Thanks for the recent installment. During my first read I remember enjoying his asides to the reader.

    Comment by BHodges — August 3, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  2. Bem feito, Adriane. Thank you.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — August 3, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

  3. Another welcome contribution. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 3, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

  4. Xique de mais e bem legal!

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 3, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

  5. Wonderful, Adriane. Thanks for sharing with the blogging community.

    Comment by Ryan T — August 4, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

  6. Fantastic stuff. Thanks, Adriane.

    Comment by Christopher — August 5, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

  7. Thanks for your comments and kind words (I enjoyed the comments in Portuguese, it sounds like Edje has served a mission in my country!).
    It was great to be a part your group, Ben, Chris and Ryan…

    Comment by adriane — August 21, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  8. Adriane, could you contact me? (or Ben could you help me get in contact with Adriane?) I’m working on a project that I think may interest Adriane.

    É algo que faz conexão entre a literatura e o Mormonismo.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — March 16, 2010 @ 6:22 am

  9. Endereço eletronico: kent (at) motleyvision (dot) org.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — March 16, 2010 @ 6:23 am


Recent Comments

wvs on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Looking forward to this. Thanks J.”

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”