|With Alison Morton on the left and Anna Belfrage on the right|
at the HNS conference in London 2014
After this post-Christmas break, I'm delighted to welcome Anna Belfrage to Literascribe, to talk about the inspiration for her story, 'The Sharing of a Husband', which appears in Distant Echoes. Her story shows us a husband and wife who love one another but are in an absolutely impossible situation - I'll let Anna explain why:
In 1984, the Swedish Herrey brothers won the Eurovision Song Contest with a song named ‘Diggiloo, Diggiley’. The Herrey brothers were somewhat exotic in Sweden: they were practising Mormons. At the time, most Swedes would equate Mormons with young men in dark suits who would knock on your door and politely ask for some moments of your time so that they could introduce you to their faith. Those of us who’d watched How the West was Won (a TV series featuring the Macahan family who set out due west in the aftermath of the US Civil War that was a HUGE hit in Sweden) had been presented with a somewhat more sinister version of Mormons: dark clad men who practised polygamy and enticed young gullible girls into plural marriages.
Obviously, this was a gross simplification. There was much more to the Mormons than their take on polygamy.
The Mormon religion saw the light of the day in the early 19th century. The first prophet, Joseph Smith, purportedly had a vision where an angel guided him to discover a number of tables in gold, upon which was inscribed the story of a lost people, the Nephites. This people were the descendants of one Lehi who, inspired by God, had his extended tribe build boats and sailed west, away from the land of Israel and to Central America. Joseph Smith translated the golden plates into what became the Book of Mormon, so named after the angel that pointed Joseph in the direction of the golden tables.
At the time, the world was a restless place: in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, the economy was generally unstable. The future looked anything but pink and rosy, and more and more people turned to religion to find some sort of hope. The Awakening was upon us, a period when preachers of all denominations tried to grow their flocks by promising salvation. The young Joseph Smith was so confused by all these preachers, all of them insisting their interpretation of the Christian faith was the right one, that he went into the forest and prayed, hoping for divine guidance. God delivered, telling Joseph to seek guidance only in Scripture, not in charlatans.
Simultaneously with all this religious fervour, the world, and in particular America, saw a number of Utopian movements. These were movements aimed at building a better, fairer world. People traipsed off into the wilds to build a brave new world, aspiring to societies built on equality and freedom.
The religion Joseph Smith presented to the world in the 1830s was to a large extent influenced by Utopian thought. He wanted to build a brand new way of life in which no one went hungry or homeless. Obviously, this appealed. And as Joseph Smith was a charismatic and very handsome man, he was especially appealing to women.
So far, so good, one could have said. Not so. The Mormons were viewed with scepticism by the established churches, and when Joseph Smith had the vision that had him urging his Mormon brethren to embrace polygamy, he indirectly handed his enemies a loaded gun with which to shoot him. At the time, polygamy was not expressly forbidden by American law, but it was definitely frowned upon. Persecution of Mormons increased, Joseph Smith was arrested and murdered in his prison cell, and the new leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young, saw no choice but to lead his people even further west, all the way to present day Utah where the tenacious Mormons would carve out a garden in the desert and establish a new city, Salt Lake City.
Brigham Young was a firm believer in polygamy and considered it to be the duty of every Mormon man to take multiple wives and of every Mormon woman to accept having sister wives. But surely it can’t have been that easy, can it? Jealousy between wives must have caused strife and disharmony, and many men would probably have preferred having only one wife—because they loved the one they had.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Salt Lake City on several occasions. I count many LDS-members (Church of Latter Day Saints is the official name for the religion founded by Joseph Smith) among my friends. And when I ask them what they think of polygamy (which, BTW, is no longer permitted by the Church of Latter Day Saints, hasn’t been since the late 19th century) and what might have driven Joseph Smith to promote it, I get varied answers. No one questions the validity of Joseph’s vision – as the First Prophet, he may not be flawless in the eyes of present-day Mormons, but criticising him is not really on. However, both men and women talk about the sacrifice a plural marriage required: from the man, who had to distribute his time fairly among his wives, from the women, obliged to share their husband.
One of my Salt Lake City friends lent me a biography of one of his ancestors, one of the founding members of the LDS church. This man would end up with three wives, but it was his first wife whom he truly loved, thereby afflicted by guilt because he couldn’t quite summon the same feelings for his other two wives. In his case, he set up separate homes for his wives and spent his life ambulating from one home to the other, fathering close to twenty-four children. He was extremely proud of all his children, and he did his best to be a devoted husband to all his wives – but he only called one of them “my love”.
All of this inspired my short story, The Sharing of a Husband, the story of a young couple in Deseret. The husband is under severe pressure by the elders of the church to take more wives, but his present wife won’t hear of it. But poor Ellie is one lonely voice and Joshua ultimately caves, betraying Ellie to comply with the requirements of his church. Not, I imagine, an easy situation to resolve.
Thank you, Anna!
About Anna Belfrage: Anna is a financial professional with two absorbing interests - history and writing. She has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her ongoing series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer's rise to power. The latest Graham saga novel is There is Always a Tomorrow - her loyal fans are, no doubt, already looking forward to the next! Anyone who knows Anna finds it impossible to understand just how she manages to be so incredibly productive - but then, she has an ultra-dynamic imagination that never seems to switch off! Anna frequently guests on history blogs and her website is at http://www.annabelfrage.com/, her blog is at https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/ and you can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor/
Distant Echoes is published by Corazon Books in ebook and paperback and is available here . This anthology contains winners and runners-up of the past two Historical Novel Society’s short story competitions.
I have also written about Distant Echoes and the small lives on the fringes of great events of history on the Historical Novel Society’s website here.
Previous guest-posts from contributors are here, here and here.
Previous guest-posts from contributors are here, here and here.