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How Victorians Eroticized Mormons



This is super fascinating:

The appeal of this kind of story, and the public prudishness we often associate with Victorian society, didn’t come out of nowhere. The era, with its widespread industrialization and accompanying growth of big cities, left people worried that the social fabric created by small-town life was disappearing. Clergy and reformers responded by publishing self-help literature stressing religion and clean living. And yet, Victorians were also enjoying a big expansion of the arts, particularly English-language fiction, which was just emerging as a popular form.

Foster writes that one socially acceptable form of semi-pornographic media in the Victorian era was moralizing fiction. Descriptions of sex acts were acceptable so long as they condemned the sinful behavior. The stories were often told in first person, featuring an exotic, sexually powerful villain and a victim who usually dies in the end. Foster notes this plot point functions by “not only heightening the pathos and stressing her passivity but tidying up any loose ends quickly.”

Some anti-Mormon tracts followed this formula, describing innocent women dragged into plural marriages. Authors imagined salacious temple ceremonies, incest, torture, and murder. Stories emphasized the “sexual magnetism of the Mormon male, the hypnotized passivity of his innocent victim.” The tracts might feature rape, but often the men were portrayed as being in league with Satan, “using evil arts” to deceive and seduce their victims. The women in the stories were “generally both attracted to and repelled by these ‘demon-lovers.’”

The combination of attraction and repulsion, of course, could also describe Victorians’ attitudes to these stories—not to mention our own modern relationship with porn.

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  • Joe_JP

    Seems to follow a time-old practice — Christian tracts of an earlier era often went into pornographic detail (often violent in nature) against sinful people and acts.

    • The Dark God of Time

      They stopped at Salt Lake to inquire of the way,
      When Brigham declared that Sweet Betsy should stay.
      Betsy got frightened and ran like a deer,
      While Brigham stood pawing the ground like a steer.

    • I was thinking it sounds like standard scare mongering about Other Males, especially “Orientals.”

      • Snuff curry

        Absolutely used to reinforce why fornication was dangerous by connecting it to various Others*, but it was also just designed to get people off without attracting censorship, and so like most Victorian erotica and sensation fiction had to featuring unwilling or pathologically insatiable women (and, though it’s not nearly as popular as it once was, we see that trope of the mesmerized, thereby safely sexualized, woman employed in present-day romance and erotic fiction). I always thought it interesting that most fictional victims, regardless of class, must after their “fates worse than death” die heroically, have regained some of their original purity by succumbing while appearing stoic or tragically but permanently mad, whereas men of the era absolutely loved their fallen women, especially the suicidal ones, but would’ve been quite upset if they’d died of natural causes and/or Clarissa-like morbid shame. That’s probably down to audiences, women being marketed a kind of propaganda (enjoy the book and all but don’t try to replicate it and when in doubt, do what Pamela did) and men a malleable object of lust and a chance to flex one’s ego. Conan Doyle’s female Mormon (in his man-achieves-glory-by-avenging-wrongs-on-young-lady novel) suffered the murder of her father and a forced marriage, resulting in death from “a broken heart.”

        Foster writes that one socially acceptable form of semi-pornographic media in the Victorian era was moralizing fiction. Descriptions of sex acts were acceptable so long as they condemned the sinful behavior.

        I don’t know how true that was in the case of male narrators (cf My Secret Life, The Romance of Lust, et al) in what, for all intents and purposes, were just really long, incest-laden Letters to Penthouse (or, to be more precise, The Pearl for as long as it lasted).

        *by extension, as you say, aberrant sexual practices were imposed on marginalized people in order to justify their persecution

  • LeeEsq

    The Mormon seems to be dressed more like a man of the late 18th century than the mid 19th century.

    I’m not really sure if this is accurate. Many 19th century Protestant denouncements of the Roman Catholic Church and the more heterodox Protestant Churches like the Latter Day Saints did revolve around sex but 19th century restraint started before this. It seems to be more cyclical than anything. Much of the Georgian period was more secular and hedonistic than the 19th century in the United Kingdom and the Americas. This lasted until the 1820s but there was an upswing in religiosity and sexual restraint in the public cultures of both countries that started to really take off toward the 1830s and lasted for decades.

    • The Dark God of Time

      You also had the popularity of the Shakers, which also reveals something of the sexual anxiety of the times:

      expansion Edit
      Main article: Lucy Wright
      After Joseph Meacham died, Lucy Wright continued Ann Lee’s missionary tradition. Shaker missionaries proselytized at revivals, not only in New England and New York, but also farther west. Missionaries such as Issachar Bates and Benjamin Seth Youngs (older brother of Isaac Newton Youngs) gathered hundreds of proselytes into the faith.[18]

      Mother Lucy Wright introduced new hymns and dances to make sermons more lively. She also helped write Benjamin S. Youngs’ book The Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing (1808).

      Shaker missionaries entered Kentucky and Ohio after the Cane Ridge, Kentucky revival of 1801–1803, which was an outgrowth of the Logan County, Kentucky, Revival of 1800. From 1805 to 1807, they founded Shaker societies at Union Village, Ohio; South Union, Logan County, Kentucky; and Pleasant Hill, Kentucky (in Mercer County, Kentucky). In 1824, the Whitewater Shaker settlement was established in southwestern Ohio. The westernmost Shaker community was located at West Union (called Busro because it was on Busseron Creek) on the Wabash River a few miles north of Vincennes in Knox County, Indiana.[19]

      Era of Manifestations

      The Shaker movement was at its height between 1820 and 1860. It was at this time that the sect had its most members, and the period was considered its “golden age”. It had expanded from New England to the Midwestern states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. It was during this period that it became known for its furniture design and craftsmanship. In the late 1830s a spiritual revivalism, the Era of Manifestations was born. It was also known as the “period of Mother’s work”, for the spiritual revelations that were passed from the late Mother Ann Lee.

      The expression of “spirit gifts” or messages were realized in “gift drawings” made by Hannah Cohoon, Polly Reed, Polly Collins, and other Shaker sisters. A number of those drawings remain as important artifacts of Shaker folk art.

    • Matt McIrvin

      He reminds me of the stereotypical Quaker (as on the oats box); perhaps this was the 19th-century visual shorthand for “religious weirdo, not like us”.

    • Hogan

      The Mormon seems to be dressed more like a man of the late 18th century than the mid 19th century.

      An aging Regency rake.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Quite humorous considering the Mormon men I’ve known were more like Ned Flanders.

    Also, I’ve always had the suspicion that reactionary males are paranoid that their wimminfolk will leave them because they’re lousy lovers. It’s such a constant paranoia that I have to suspect that they’re on to something.

    • GoDeep

      It’s there really a thing as bad sex? I’ve had great sex, but I’ve never had bad sex.

      • Thirtyish

        Yes, there is very obviously such a thing as bad sex.

        • GoDeep

          Sounds like you’re in a position to know.

          • Gregor Sansa

            Go fuck yourself.

            • weirdnoise

              Go fuck yourself.

              That’s certainly one way to experience bad sex.

              • Snuff curry

                Fuck, can you masturbate wrong? Does your hand get a headache or does it ever refuse to learn to do anything properly apart from unstimulating jack-hammering? I guess I’m luckier than I thought because I’m a great lay for myself.

            • GoDeep

              Gregor Thirtyish called me a man the other day. So I have the right to respond. This was out of the blue since I hadn’t even responded to anything he said. Civility is a two-way street. I’m tired of white boys who dish out punishment but can’t take it in return.

            • GoDeep

              And usually it’s best to stay out of fights you’re not in. Or are you drunk and feeling dickish again?

              As mom used to say this is an A and B conversation C your way out of it.

          • Origami Isopod

            Jesus might love you, GoDeep, but the rest of us think you’re an asshole.

            • GoDeep

              I never insult first Origami. And I ignore many insults but I’m done with white men like Thirtyish who don’t, like the cool kids say, check their privilege. Let him call me a man one more time.

          • Pseudonym

            Thirtyish may or may not be white and/or male, but pretty sure they’re not a missionary.

            • Pseudonym

              (And treating someone’s possible experience of bad sex as insult fodder is super classy as well.)

        • The Dark God of Time

          The condition was termed frigidity.

          • OT: Has everyone seen those little, one-handed picnic coolers? They’re often given some name that includes the name “mate.” The “Handy Mate,” that sort of thing.

            On year, my aunt showed up at the beach with a mini-cooler that the manufacturer had proudly designated the Frigid Mate.

            • cpinva

              “On year, my aunt showed up at the beach with a mini-cooler that the manufacturer had proudly designated the Frigid Mate.”

              well, even they need a cooler from time to time.

      • When it’s good it’s good and when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.

        • Thirtyish

          No, that’s pizza. When sex is bad, it’s horrible.

          • Origami Isopod

            The same with pizza. Cold, soggy crust, mushrooms that came out of a can, etc.

            • N__B

              Sex with that would be awful.

              • But not as awful as if the mushrooms come from Yuggoth.

              • Ahuitzotl

                If you’re going to have sex with a pizza, then cold is preferable to hot.
                I’m told.

          • If people seriously believed there was no such thing as bad sex, they’d have a whole lot more of it.

            On the other hand, based on that analysis, I think there really is no such thing as bad pizza.

          • Pseudonym

            Ordering the cheapest option available within 30 minutes late at night is a bad idea in either case.

    • Judas Peckerwood

      Quite humorous considering the Mormon men I’ve known were more like Ned Flanders.

      I assume that you’re talking about followers of today’s watered-down mormonism. Keep in mind that Warren Jeffs-style polygamous fundamentalism was more the standard at the time.

  • LWA

    I’m tempted to smirk at the Victorians, but I’m thinking of all the contemporary sex panics from my own lifetime- starting from the Free Love hippie era, to 80’s Satanic pedophilia, to “Rainbow Parties” to all the others.
    And yeah, almost all of them seem to have been middle aged folks describing their own lurid fantasies.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I can’t find it on the internet, but my fuzzy memory says that Lenny Bruce once said or wrote, “There are people who say that I’m a pervert, and that’s just not true. If I’m a pervert, you should whip me with a big, black, belt with a shiny silver buckle…”

      • LWA

        Tangential to the OP, but has anyone else noticed how the conventional wisdom of “sex crazed teens” and “sedate sexless middle aged parents” is so wildly wrong?

        Speaking as a middle aged parent myself, I notice how teenagers generally speaking, have rather modest sex lives, even if they are marked by fumbling awkwardness.
        Whereas sex clubs, fetish clubs and the like are almost exclusively the territory of middle aged middle class ordinary folks.

        • postmodulator

          No one likes to imagine anyone much older than themselves still has sex. No one can imagine reaching an age when he or she completely loses interest in sex. And no one can reconcile the contradiction.

          • Woodrowfan

            Studies show that 75% of all couples over the age of 60 are still having sex regularly, and 100% of their kids and grand-kids don;t want to even THINK about it!!!

            • The Dark God of Time

              20% of new AIDS infections take place in the 50 and above demographic.

            • Ahuitzotl

              100% of their kids and grand-kids don;t want to even THINK about it

              I’ve never understood this squeamishness, nor really run into it til I got to the US.

        • Pseudonym

          Teenagers don’t have to join fetish clubs to bring excitement to their sex lives.

    • Richard Gadsden

      There seem to be parts of the US media in the middle of a full-on white slavery panic at the moment.

      Not that sex trafficking isn’t awful, but the scale of it is pretty clearly a lot lower than the scale of the panic – there are nothing like enough arrests for the amount of work going in (and most of the ones there are are for non-forced adult prostitution).

      • Srsly Dad Y

        Agreed. Every sex trafficking article I’ve read (not to say I make a habit of them) has been promptly walked back or debunked for using bad statistics. I think it’s a coded fear for fear of foreigners.

      • q-tip

        I don’t know if this will surprise you, but it sure surprised me when I learned it a few months ago: the federal definition of “sex trafficking” includes anyone who profits (or attempts to) from a sex act committed by a minor (under 18). In part, trafficking’s kind of the pimping equivalent of statutory rape, and includes profiting from sex acts committed in states where the age of consent is lower than 18.

        (For people over 18, I think the attempt to profit has to involve something along the lines of force, fraud, coercion, etc., to make it trafficking.)

        I had always pictured “sex trafficking” involving smuggling, buying/selling people, etc. – the standard tropes of white slavery. In fact, it’s a pretty expansive definition, and includes 1) any pandering/pimping of minors and 2) any pandering/pimping that involves coercion etc. – which probably covers 95+% of your garden-variety street pimping, I think.*

        *The ADA who gave the talk I heard on this topic said that sex trafficking victims they encounter in his jurisdiction are usually from another county, often from another state, and rarely from another country. But moving people at least a short away from their home environment is a practical consideration, not an essential element of the crime of trafficking.

  • Thirtyish

    How Victorians Eroticized Mormons

    Well, someone had to. /rimshot

    • N__B


      If that’s what you’re into…

  • EBT

    Well, part of it has to do with only having sex with one person ever is a recipe for being lousy at sex.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      That, plus a social rule system yelling at people to NEVER TALK ABOUT THIS SUBJECT. That doesn’t help, either.

    • GoDeep

      Yeah but you’ll never know it.

      • The Dark God of Time

        Take a chill pill, citizen.

    • Jordan

      … I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.

      • EBT

        You should try sane pills. I take them and they are pretty effective for certain values.

        • BubbaDave

          Dried frog pills.

  • keta

    Damn. First the Osmond Star Wars sketch and now this. I’d say Erik is crushing hard on Marie Osmond, but far be it from me to ever point this up. I mean, I’ve been there myself and she just gets in your head, man.

  • elm

    It wasn’t just limited to Victorian America. Victorian England got in on the fun, too. The first Sherlock Holmes novel had Mormon villains and a long section set in Utah. The Mormons weren’t really eroticized much by Doyle, but they were treated as an inherently exotic and threatening other and the central theme was kidnapping and forced marriage as was the case with the erotica discussed in the linked article.

    • Davis

      One may interpret the forced marriage as rape, but yes, nothing in the story is explicit.

    • Pseudonym

      Is “Victorian America” even a thing?

      • Thom

        Yes, in historical studies “Victorian” refers to an era that is not limited just to the areas ruled by Queen Victoria.

  • Keaaukane

    Think about the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A study in scarlet”, which featured over sexed Mormons.

    • Keaaukane

      To elm I can only say, you beat me by seconds. Or great minds think alike. Or something.

      • elm

        I’m just glad I’m not the only one here with detailed knowledge of Sherlock Holmes novels readily available. There should be more Sherlock references in the comments here.

        • N__B

          Only if you don’t mind me quoting the Thinking Machine and Philo Vance.

          • The Dark God of Time

            ‘You will not attempt to pass,’ came the quiet voice of Carrados from across the room. ‘You are now all exactly where I want you. You are both covered. If either moves an inch, I fire—and remember that I shoot by sound, not sight.’

            ‘But—but what does it mean?’ stammered Montmorency, above the despairing wail of Madame Dompierre.

            ‘It means that we are now on equal terms—three blind men in a dark room. The numerical advantage that you possess is counterbalanced by the fact that you are out of your element—I am in mine.’

            ‘Dom,’ whispered Montmorency across the dark space, ‘strike a match. I have none.’

            ‘I would not, Dompierre, if I were you,’ advised Carrados, with a short laugh. ‘It might be dangerous.’ At once his voice seemed to leap into a passion. ‘Drop that matchbox,’ he cried.’ You are standing on the brink of your grave, you fool! Drop it, I say; let me hear it fall.’

            A breath of thought—almost too short to call a pause—then a little thud of surrender sounded from the carpet by the door. The two conspirators seemed to hold their breath.

            ‘That is right.’ The placid voice once more resumed its sway. ‘Why cannot things be agreeable? I hate to have to shout, but you seem far from grasping the situation yet. Remember that I do not take the slightest risk. Also please remember, Mr Montmorency, that the action even of a hair-trigger automatic scrapes slightly as it comes up. I remind you of that for your own good, because if you are so ill-advised as to think of trying to pot me in the dark, that noise gives me a fifth of a second start of you. Do you by any chance know Zinghi’s in Mercer Street?’

            ‘The shooting gallery?’ asked Mr Montmorency a little sulkily.

            ‘The same. If you happen to come through this alive and are interested you might ask Zinghi to show you a target of mine that he keeps. Seven shots at twenty yards, the target indicated by four watches, none of them so loud as the one you are wearing. He keeps it as a curiosity.’

            The Game Played in the Dark.


          • In the words of Mr. Nash,

            Philo Vance
            Needs a kick in the pance.

            (However, the campness of such later works as The Gracie Allen Murder Case redeems him somewhat.)

            • N__B

              Vance is great if you imagine him looking and sounding exactly like William Buckley.

            • Schadenboner

              Pluto Nash?

              • The Dark God of Time


        • Keaaukane

          The game is afoot! More Holmes quotes would definitely improve the tone around here, as opposed to the endless comic book references.

          • Ruviana


  • UncleEbeneezer

    Stories emphasized the “sexual magnetism of the Mormon male

    Well this would explain Karl Rove’s obsession with Skewed Polls!!1! with regards to Romney.

    Seriously though, isn’t this the sort of sexual othering that Victorian and then American Protestants have done to just about every religion outside of their norms. Pagans with their orgies, Catholics with their anal sex and frisky Catholic school girls, Muslims with their harems, Eastern religions with their crazy Kama Sutra positions etc.? Seems like a pattern of sexually repressed projection.

    PS- There’s a whole subcategory of Mormon porn out there…so I’ve heard.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      Except in the late 19th century, polygamy really was something in living memory for most Mormons. Whereas it most certainly wasn’t for the rest of Western Civ. That could legitimately be considered exotic.

    • Origami Isopod

      PS- There’s a whole subcategory of Mormon porn out there…so I’ve heard.

      The woman unbuttons her shirt…. and there’s no temple garment on underneath?

      • galanx

        No, there is- that’s what makes it erotic- to other Mormons at least. Of course, how do they know they’re really Mormon? OTOH, I’ve heard some of those French maids don’t even know which end of a feather duster to use. Truth in Pron!

    • Does Orgazmo count?

  • Jordan


    I think in our current age the most significant (cis-gendered, straight) sexual trend for mormons is how how young they get married. I’m going to my brother’s wedding this summer, he’s 22. Several years ago I went to my sister’s, she was also 22.

    I.e.: if you really internalize “can’t have sex until you get married” then you get people getting married really young, at least compared to the general social situation.

    • UncleEbeneezer

      I worked for a Temp Agency that placed alot of Mormons and ending up working with quite a few of them. One girl told me how she was so excited for her wedding night to finally have sex. She was in her early 20’s and very clearly had sex on her much of time. She was unexpectedly open and honest about all the kinky interests she was eager to explore once she was allowed the opportunity. I always wondered how large of a role that played in her desire to get married so young. She insisted it wasn’t the only reason but it sure seemed like a prominent factor based on our discussions.

    • brettvk

      This was true in my Midwestern medium-sized town in my adolescence, late 60s-early 70s. I was amazed at how many of my classmates practically ran from the commencement ceremony to their churches to marry up Right! Away! These were the Good Girls, of course. I’ve never gone to a class reunion so I don’t know how durable those rushed unions were.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Yes, I was thinking of my adolescence, half a world away, and the same enthusiasm for early, or very early marriage: half desparate to have sex, and half to cover pregnancies.

  • Bitter Scribe

    The weirdest such eroticization of a religion I ever saw was this tract about how Catholic confession was just a big ol’ sexytimes. Apparently young girls were being dragooned into talking about their sex lives for the entertainment of lustful priests. Or something. I never did quite get what the outrage was supposed to be.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      Well, people *do* confess sexual sins in confession. The Catholic Church *does* have a fairly conservative take on sexual morality.

    • A young Catholic man went to confession and said:

      “Bless me father for I have sinned. I had sex with a loose woman.”

      “Was it Mary Conrad?”
      “I can’t say father.”
      “Was it Sally Fitzgerald?”
      “I really can’t say father.”
      “What about Susy Watson?”
      “I’m sorry father but I mustn’t say.”

      When his friend asked how it went the young man said:

      “I got ten Hail Marys and three really good leads!”

      • postmodulator

        Less amusingly, the Beat poet Gregory Corso said that in his first confession he admitted to a sexual sin, and the priest pressed him for details.

        • I believe I have mentioned my poet acquaintance who mentioned, one night at dinner with mutual friends, how many years earlier (at a dinner party with those same friends) Gregory Corso (also their friend, at least before that evening) ejaculated on her clothes (without her consent, active participation, or foreknowledge).

          So perhaps the details were worth pressing him for?

          • postmodulator

            Gah. Sort of glad that I never really thought much of his poetry.

            That wasn’t much like what he was confessing to, though. He said that he told the priest he and another boy had masturbated together, and the priest asked “And how big was the other boy’s thing?” I think this was in Literary Outlaw, the first big Burroughs biography from the 80s.

      • keta

        A male Mormon, a fisherman and a male mechanic walk into a laundromat. There are several attractive women there doing their laundry.

        “Boy,” says the fisherman, “I’d like to school them all up and catch them in my net!”

        “I’d get them all in my garage and tune them up!” said the mechanic.

        “I’d gather them together and preach the Articles of Faith to them,” said the Mormon.

      • Woodrowfan

        “Bless me father for I have sinned. I am 70 years old and am regularly having threesomes with two 21 year old strippers.”
        “You must say 20 Hail Mary’s”
        “I don;t know how to do that, I’m Jewish.”
        “You’re Jewish? Why are you telling a priest about your threesomes?
        “I’m telling EVERYBODY!!”

    • witlesschum

      The linked story claims that when Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the most popular book in the U.S. it dethroned a book like the above that was supposed confession of sexual depravity from a priest. I remember reading an article about that particular fake confession narrative awhile ago in Salon.

      Anti-Catholicism among Protestants was really high then and overlapped with anti-immigrant attitudes a la the Know Nothings.

      • Hogan

        Foster is probably quoting Richard Hofstadter on The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk:

        Historian Richard Hofstadter called it, in his 1964 essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, “[p]robably the most widely read contemporary book in the United States before Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”[8]

        Awful Disclosures got a new round of popularity during Al Smith’s presidential campaign.

      • wjts

        See also The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, which borrowed extensively from Matthew Lewis’ The Monk.

        • Hogan

          It doesn’t owe much to Lewis specifically, more to anti-Catholic tropes that had been banging around since Diderot’s La Religieuse and English Gothic novels generally. The immediate inspiration was probably Rebecca Reed’s account of her captivity in the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, MA, which led to an angry mob burning down the convent.

          (I actually read all that stuff as part of my dissertation work. Lewis is great. Awful Disclosures is one of the most tedious books I’ve ever forced myself to finish. It may, like Balzac, have been one of the hottest things going in the 1830s, but if you’re spent fifteen minutes on the internet you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.)

          • wjts

            I read Lewis (ages ago) but only know Disclosures by reputation, so I’m inclined to think you’re probably right. (Though the infallible Wikipedia article on The Monk suggests that my recollection on the matter is similarly infallible.)

  • Boss-eyed

    The Courage of Captain Plum, by James Oliver Curwood, is a great example of this. The villain is a Mormon named James Jesse Strang, who led a sect of Mormons on an island in northern Michigan. I can’t find my copy off hand, but Strang is portrayed as a huge, powerful man with ravenous appetites and a taste for deflowering maidens; nonfiction sources suggest he was actually 5’3”. I was shocked by the anti-Mormon sentiments.The book goes back to 1908, so it isn’t strictly Victorian, but it’s the same dynamic.

    • witlesschum

      Strang was a wonderfully bizarre 19th century character, who while growing up on a farm in upstate New York apparently told people he was going to figure out how to marry Victoria. That failing, he joined the Mormons and claimed to have found a whole second set of buried golden plates. Brigham Young ran him off and Strang ended up settling on the island in Lake Michigan with a number of followers and running off the Irish fishermen who had moved there.

      The only town on Beaver Island is still called St. James after Strang who had himself crowned King at one point by his followers and then elected to the territorial legislature. He and his followers upset the political balance of northern Michigan, because there were more of them than the population of Mackinac Island.

      Strang was murdered by a follower, allegedly because the follower was put up to it by his wife who was upset at the King’s recent decree regarding proper ladies undergarments. He was prescribing something less bulky and cumbersome to the ladies of his kingdom, apparently like what Amelia Bloomer came up with, which the follower and his wife are supposed to have found scandalously indecent.

      The killer then fled to the harbor and boarded a U.S. Navy ship, which took him Mackinac Island for trial, where he was acquitted of murder despite confessing how he had ambushed the king and shot him from behind a woodpile. The navy’s involvement has led some historians to speculate that the U.S. government had connived in the regicide. The political powers that be from Mackinac Island then ran the Strangites off from the island. They fled to Wisconsin and there are still a community of them there who believe they’re the real successors to Joseph Smith, not those people in Utah who followed Brigham Young.

    • Schadenboner

      We really, really need to do a mashup of this and Shadow over Innsmouth…

  • Davis

    I jave always heard that the Mormons love sex after getting married. After all, where do all those kids come from?

    • wjts


  • Thom

    Our colleague Eileen Cleere has a recent article in Victorian Studies related to this.

  • rmac3

    After movie censorship came about in the mid-thirties the saying was “you can sleep around, steal money and whip the servants as long as you die in the last reel”.

  • bargal20

    Are we supposed to pretend that the average Mormon man was Mitt Romney in the Victorian era? Someone’s been drinking the non-caffinated Salt Lake kool aid.

  • bargal20

    Are we supposed to pretend that the average Victorian man attracted to Mormonism’s original tenets was Mitt Romney? Someone’s been drinking the non-caffinated Salt Lake kool aid. I think most people today would still be disturbed by the Latter Day Saints splinter groups that still adhere to pure, unadulterated Mormonism.

  • Woodrowfan
  • Ormond

    The Awful Disclousre of Maria Monk, an anti-Catholic bestseller depicting the manifold sexual outrages of a Montreal convent that Foster refers to and is mentioned obliquely in the linked article, was published in 1836. From the 1830s through the Civil War American popular fiction was rife with eroticized depictions of religion and religious figures. The rakish clergyman, and alternately the clergyman seduced into error and dissolution, was a major trope of the popular literature of this time. Reform movements in particular – and often religious ones that grew out of the Second Great Awakening centered in Upstate New York – came in for this treatment. Sexual experimentation coupled with new kinds of religious expression were often organizing principles in new “intentional communities” that were formed by adherents. The Oneida Communiy in upstate New York prracticed “complex marriage” which was functionally a system of free love. Homosexual desire was still disciplined for the most part, with most movements acknowledging its potential by making explicit rules against it. All of this was ready material for the enterprising writers and publishers looking for material to fill the enormous new market for serialized sensational narrative.

    • mch

      In mid-century divorce was finally being taken out of state legislatures and put in the hands of the courts, if only because there were now too many divorce petitions for the legislative committees on divorce to handle. I am not sure when the ten-year norm for desertion as grounds for divorce began to be displaced by the three-year norm (in NY, certainly by the late nineteenth century). Throw into the mix, say, Victoria Woodhull.

      A few other things to throw into the mix.

      Academies (today we’d think of them as private high schools) were busily being established in the countryside outside of the city centers (many by religious groups — Methodists were big on these), especially once railroads made them more accessible, to get teenage males away from “the temptations” of the city. Colleges supported these efforts because they needed students.

      Those who had been pushing for public high schools in NYC (was this in the 1830’s? 1840’s? something like that) used the Catholic Church’s growing number of high schools (which, like other religious schools of all (Christian) denominations, received taxpayer subsidies) to achieve their goal, with the argument: what, only the Catholics are going to get high school educations in large numbers?

      Anecdote: in my own ridiculously old white Protestant NYC family in the 19th century, proximity bred interesting results. By the last part of that century and very beginning of the next, these old English-Dutch types were marrying not only Catholics but, in one instance (my great grandmother, who crucially helped raise my mother), the son of a Jewish father. One of her sons changed his last name to avoid being mistaken for being Jewish — and then married an Irish Catholic, in which church his children were raised. go figure

      My great grandmother’s father was killed by some Irish “ruffians” in 1884’s East Harlem. They were pretty much young thugs, from what I can tell. But he (probably an alcoholic, to go by the coroner’s testimony — he also left Baltimore to volunteer for the Union and was a surgeon’s assistant, so I’ll cut him some slack) got tied up with them while chatting them up on the street — talk of the Giants — and then they found their way to a saloon…. The story is quite colorful. I assume I never heard any stories about him (he was vaguely “from Baltimore”) and had to learn from my own research because of the shame the family felt due to the manner of his death.

      Anyway, have thoroughly enjoyed the post and comments and learned from them, especially Ormand’s. Life is full of tugs, this way and that.

    • Looks like my summer reading list just grew.

      • Pseudonym

        Good beach reading for your Caribbean trip with the wife?

        • Said trip is now dependent on no one else dropping my summer course, so we will see.

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    “and accompanying growth of big cities, left people worried that the social fabric created by small-town life was disappearing.”

    Sounds like what most of the people who “want to take their country back” are saying.

  • Gwen

    Everything old is new again.


    When I google “Mormon Porn” I get 541,000 results.

    I wonder how many involve rice krispy treats…

    • Mike G

      Well, they are known for liking jello.

      Look up “bubbling” and “soaking”.

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