THE 19TH WIFE is a work of fiction. It is not meant to be read as a stand-in for a biography
of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young, or any of the other historical
figures who appear in it. Even so, it’s human nature to wonder if a
historical novel is inspired by real people and real events, and if so to what
degree; and thus I feel an obligation to the reader to begin to answer that
Anyone attempting to write about the history of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, even a sliver of it, will immediately encounter
the difficult task of accuracy. That is because on nearly every
issue in the Church’s past, and in regard to every person who has played
a part in the Church’s often remarkable life, there are at least two, and
typically more, combative opinions on what each side sincerely calls “the
truth.” In the preface to his 1925 biography of Brigham Young, M. R.
Werner states the case plainly: “Mormon and anti-Mormon literature is
Ever since her apostasy from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints in 1873, Ann Eliza Young has been a figure of controversy among
Mormons and non-Mormons alike. I don’t expect to settle that controversy
with this book. One reason the controversy has lingered is that she
left a substantial record of her experiences as a plural wife in her two
memoirs and many public lectures. Her enemies and allies have used her
own words to denounce or support her, and thus in order to write about
Ann Eliza Young I inevitably began with her lectures and passionate
memoirs, Wife No. 19 (1875) and Life in Mormon Bondage (1908).
books have their flaws. In them, Ann Eliza can come off as simultaneously hypercritical and hypersensitive. She is selective in her presentation
of her story and Mormon history, carrying out an agenda with little
subtlety or nuance. Too often her tone becomes strident and vengeful.
Her portrait of Brigham Young lacks the complexity for which he was
known. And she can get basic information wrong. Yet despite these limitations, her memoirs, as well as her public lectures upon which the memoirs
are based, remain the best sources for the plot of her life and, just as
important, for appreciating her point of view. If she had not spoken up
there would be much about her life, and especially her marriage to
Brigham, that we could never know. It is one reason her story is so remarkable—
she dared to reveal what thousands of other plural wives bore
in silence. Therefore I gratefully acknowledge her original efforts in autobiography.
Without them, The 19th Wife would have been a far lesser,
far more opaque book. Ann Eliza wrote her books to affect public opinion
and change policy, but also to shape her legacy; inspired by this, I
wrote chapters of an alternative memoir as part of this novel. My long
process of thinking about Ann Eliza and her family, and the context of
her life, began with her books, and so it seemed only natural to begin my
novel where she does, and then veer away.
The 19th Wife follows Ann Eliza’s basic biographical arc as she describes
it, although often I fill in where she skips and I skip where she digresses. I
continue past her conclusion and reinterpret where her point of view limits
an understanding of her life and times. I also spend time on members
of her family, about whom she has little meaningful to say. It is with them—Chauncey, Elizabeth, Gilbert, and Lorenzo Leonard—that I take
the most liberties because their biographies are less known and because of
the novelist’s need to weave the disparate into something unified. As for
Brigham Young, my portrait of him is mostly consistent with that presented
by people who knew him, some historians, as well as the sermons,
declarations, letters, and diaries he left. Often when he speaks in my narrative,
especially at the pulpit, his words are inspired by a sermon we know,
through the historical record, he made. I am sure his admirers will argue I
linger too long on his egomaniacal tendencies as well as his appetites; and
that by quoting him directly on the subject of blood atonement on pages
180–81. I am overemphasizing his calls for violence. Brigham’s detractors,
on the other hand, will probably say I let him off the hook. Thankfully the
historical record is vast and accessible; the curious reader can visit the library
or go online to form his or her own conclusions.
Which leads me to the documents (or “documents”) that run throughout
the novel—the newspaper articles, the letters, the Introduction by
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Wikipedia entry. Although I am the author
of these, they are fictional representations of what it’s like to spend time
in the archives and online researching Ann Eliza Young, Brigham, and
early LDS history. Many are inspired by an actual text or a kind of text.
For example, my Howard Greenly interview with Joseph purposely
evokes Horace Greeley’s well-known interview with Brigham in 1859; the
devotional poem “In Our House” is my limp attempt at the sincere hymns
many Pioneers wrote to reflect their experiences; and the Wikipedia
entry is (obviously) written in a style very much like a Wikipedia entry.
The mighty lens of history has enabled me to see Ann Eliza’s life as
she could not, and I have used this perspective to tell her story in a way
that perhaps broadens it and connects it to our day. All of this is a longwinded
answer to the original question, is The 19th Wife based on real
people and real events? Yes. Have I invented much of it? Yes, for that is
what novelists do.
Inevitably I relied on a variety of sources to write this book, each important
to my task and worth acknowledging. Many times I turned to
Irving Wallace’s thorough biography, The Twenty-Seventh Wife (1961), itself
indebted to Ann Eliza’s original memoirs. I recommend it, along
with Wife No. 19, for anyone who wants to know more about her life. In
addition, the Irving Wallace Archive at the Honnold Library at the
Claremont Colleges holds a fine collection on Ann Eliza Young; I’m
grateful to Mr.Wallace for making his original research available to the
public and to Carrie Marsh and the other archivists who maintain it
today. Just as important were the archives of the Salt Lake Daily Tribune,
one of Ann Eliza’s most vocal allies. This paper published almost daily
reports on her battle with Brigham, devoting dozens of news columns to
her story and many editorials to support her cause, and reprinted most of
the legal filings in their divorce case. Throughout the 1870s and ’80s the
Tribune featured a number of articles about the general conditions of
polygamy in Utah and serialized sensational personal narratives,
many of which supported Ann Eliza’s claims. This thorough repository—
today housed on microfiche at the magnificent Salt Lake City Public Library—
helped me with crucial details about Ann Eliza’s life, as well as to
better understand its historical context. On the other hand, the Deseret
News, Ann Eliza’s inevitable opponent, reported on her story from
Brigham’s perspective. While other local and national papers covered
Ann Eliza’s story in great (and often tabloid) detail, these two publications
documented her life story and her apostasy from the Mormon
Church as well as any periodical during her day. (The Anti-Polygamy
Standard, which published out of Salt Lake City in the 1880s, is a useful
source for stories of plural marriage a few years after Ann Eliza’s
Some people argue bibliographies have no place in fiction, but several
books and documents have helped me with so many matters large and
small that I want to give them the thanks they are due. I haven’t included
this list to show off the extent of my reading (or lack thereof ) but to acknowledge
a set of authors whose work I learned from: “Ann Eliza
Young” by the American Literary Bureau; Brigham Young: American
Moses by Leonard J. Arrington; Twenty Years of Congress by James G.
Blaine; No Man Knows My History by Fawn M. Brodie; Emma Lee by
Juanita Brooks; The City of the Saints by Sir Richard F. Burton; The Pioneer
Cookbook by Kate Carter; In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton;
“Forest Farm House and Forest Dale” by Edith Olsen Cowen; “Brigham
Young, His Family and His Wives” compiled by the Daughters of the
Utah Pioneers; “Unique Story—President Brigham Young” compiled by
the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers; “Autobiography of Moses Deming”
by Moses Deming; The Women of Mormonism edited by Jennie A.
Froiseth; Nauvoo Factbook by George and Sylvia Givens; By the Hand of
Mormon by Terry L. Givens; The Mormon Question by Sarah Barringer
Gordon; “Letters” by Irene Haskell; Solemn Covenant by B. Carmon
Hardy; “Eliza Jane Churchill Webb, Pioneer of 1848” by Olivette Webb
Goe Henry; “Chauncey Griswold Webb, Pioneer of 1848” by Olivette
Webb Goe Henry and Nina Beth E. Goe Cunningham; Old Mormon
Kirtland by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and T. Jeffrey Cottle; Old Mormon
Nauvoo by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and T. Jeffrey Cottle; Life of James
Redpath by Charles F. Horner; 111 Days to Zion by Hal Knight and Dr.
Stanley B. Kimball; Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer; The
Story of the Mormons from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 by
William Alexander Linn, especially Chapter IV, “The Hand-Cart
Tragedy”; “Utah’s Forty Years of Historical Amnesia” by Theron Luke;
Historic Dress in America by Elizabeth McClellan; Redburn by Herman
Melville, especially Chapter 38 for its vivid depiction of Liverpool’s
slums; Sounding Brass by Hugh Nibley; The Fate of Madame La Tour by
Mrs. A. G. Paddock; Eccentricities of Genius by Major J. B. Pond; “August
Announcement of 1875” by the Redpath Lyceum; “Brigham Young Divorce
Case” by Brigham Henry Roberts; “Ann Eliza—Mrs. Young’s Lecture
Last Night—The Story of Her Life” by the St. Louis Republican,
December 30, 1873; The Book of Mormon, translated by Joseph Smith, Jr.;
The Pearl of Great Price by Joseph Smith, Jr.; God Has Made Us a Kingdom
by Vickie Cleverley Speek; Brigham Young at Home by Clarissa Young
Spencer and Mabel Harmer; Mormon Country by Wallace Stegner; Expose
of Polygamy in Utah by Mrs. T.B.H. Stenhouse; Tell It All by Mrs.
T.B.H. Stenhouse (it’s worth noting that Stenhouse’s books inspired Ann
Eliza’s memoirs in many ways); Roughing It by Mark Twain; Mormon
Polygamy by Richard S.Van Wagoner; “Interview with Joe Place,April 23,
1960” by Irving Wallace; Brigham Young by M. R. Werner; The Bold
Women by Helen Beal Woodward; The Journal of Discourses, Volumes 3
and 4, by Brigham Young; Diary of Brigham Young, 1857, edited by Everett
L. Cooley; My Dear Sons: Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons, edited by
Dean C. Jessee; The Complete Sermons of Brigham Young; and Isn’t One
Wife Enough? by Kimball Young.
I owe a great deal to the following institutions and their staffs for making
their collections readily available through open stacks and policies of
access. Each contains a variety of useful, idiosyncratic materials that I
gladly co-opted for my use: the Salt Lake City Public Library; Brigham
Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library; the University of Utah’s J.
Willard Marriott Library; the Provo Public Library; the Washington
County Library in St. George; the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum;
and the Nauvoo Family History Center.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has devoted countless
resources to creating and staffing dozens of historical museums,
many of them free and open to the public. I visited these institutions several
times, lingering to take notes and talk to the missionaries serving as
docents and guides.Without the church’s careful and abundant preservation
of the past throughout Utah, as well as in Nauvoo, I could not have
conjured up Ann Eliza’s world.
I want to thank the Metropolitan Community Church of Las Vegas
for warmly welcoming me into their sanctuary. Although the sermon on
pages 314–16 is inspired by one I heard there on December 18, 2005, the
scene itself is fictitious and does not depict this actual church or anyone
in its loving congregation.
A number of people generously shared their stories with me.Without
them I could not have written this novel as it is: Flora Jessop, Carmen
Thompson, Steve Tripp, Mickey Unger, Beverly White, Kevin, Jimmy,
Peter, and Susan. Thank you all.
Kari Main of the Pioneer Memorial Museum read the book in manuscript,
correcting a number of errors. Her sharp, knowing eye fixed the
book in many ways. She was an ideal reader and these few words are not
enough thanks for her efforts.
The supremely talented Catherine Hamilton drew the illustration on
page 220; it is based on an original 1876 etching by Stanley Fox.
I’d like to thank the Danish Arts Council for their support while I was
revising the novel; Peter and Gitte Rannes for their warm hospitality at
the Danish Centre for Writers and Translators in Hald; and Nathaniel
Rich and Martin Glaz Serup for a productive retreat.
Alexis Richland provided much needed editorial guidance on an early
draft. Her thoughtful response helped solve some problems that had lingered
in my mind for years. Mark Nelson read several drafts, each time
raising important questions in need of resolution. His fierce intelligence
improved the novel in every sense. I’m grateful for the many hours he devoted
to this book, and for his unyielding friendship and support. Daryl
Mattson, who has never tired of listening to me gab about almost anything,
served as a sounding board for a number of ideas in this book, even
when he wasn’t aware of it. The name of the Internet café in St. George,
A Woman Sconed, comes from him.
For ten years Elaine Koster has been a formidable agent, insightful editor,
and loyal friend. Her unflagging encouragement helped bring this
book from an early idea to the pages you now hold. I owe her much.
Lots of thanks are due to Marianne Velmanns and her colleagues at
Transworld. They are the kind of publisher every writer hopes to have.
The thanks I want to offer Random House are vast. So many people
there have helped me over so many years that any list of names is bound
to forget someone crucial. So I’ll make a blanket but sincere expression of
gratitude to everyone at 1745. I know how books are published, and I
know that each of you played a part. I hope you’ll forgive me for not
printing the company roster. But I must thank my editor, Kate Medina.
She is a brilliant reader, and her wise pencil made this book better in
many, many ways. Frankie Jones and Jennifer Smith shouldered the burdens
of turning a manuscript into a book; each did so with grace and generosity.
Jynne Martin, publicity-goddess: it’s an honor to be on your
roster. And to my publisher, Gina Centrello, thank you for your support,
which has shown itself in so many ways.
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Read some of the original newspaper articles
from the story here.