CESNUR - Center for Studies on New Religions directed by Massimo Introvigne

"The Great Polygamy Hotel": Sherlock Holmes, Farandoul, and the Popularization of Mormon Stereotypes in Nineteenth Century Fiction

Michael W. Homer - Massimo Introvigne


This contribution will provide examples on how stereotypes concerning minority religions are reinforced in popular fiction and how critics use these stereotypes to create  distinctions between religions and “cults”. Ethno-definitions of religion are produced and negotiated in the course of social and legal interaction. “Ethno-definitions”, which have been defined by Arthur Greil, as “the working definitions that social actors themselves use in an attempt to make judgements in everyday life” (Greil 1996: 48), are different from scholarly definitions. They may, occasionally, interact with scholarly definitions, but the impact of scholarly discourse on ethno-definitions is dubious. Greil has observed that “when focus is on ethno-definitions, ‘religion’ is examined not as a characteristic which inheres in certain phenomena, but as a cultural resource over which competing interest groups may vie. From this perspective, religion is not an entity but a claim made by certain groups and - in some cases - contested by others to the right to the privileges associated in a given society with the religious label” (Greil 1996: 48). Greil has also proposed a distinction between “popular” and “institutional” definitions of religion. The popular definitions of religion in the West are normally based on Christianity, and appear to tolerate only a certain amount of deviation from the Christian paradigm. Institutional definitions of religion, by governmental agencies or courts of law, may try to mediate between popular and scholarly definitions, but the process is difficult, and the results unpredictable. In addition, since “religion” is normally associated in popular discourse with something positive and benign, it is necessary to argue that there are those which claim to be religions, but which are not genuine, in order to cast them in negative terms

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a reviled and persecuted sect throughout most of the nineteenth century. John Hanson Beadle (1840-1897), a harsh critic of Mormonism, wrote in Scribner's Monthly in July 1877, that “Americans have but one native religion [i.e. Mormonism] and that one is the sole apparent exception to the American rule of universal toleration”. “Of this anomaly”, Beadle wrote, “two explanations are offered: one, that the Americans are not really a tolerant people and that what is called toleration is only such toward our common Protestantism, or more common Christianity; the other, that something peculiar to Mormonism takes it out of the sphere of religion” (Beadle 1877: 391). Beadle's astute observation effectively blackmailed American readers into concluding that Mormonism was not a religion. In fact, readers were presumably committed to an ideal of religious tolerance as part of a shared American mythology. 

Terryl Givens has observed that “it is precisely the casting of Mormonism in non-religious terms that explains why anti-Mormonism is not an exception to the rhetoric of toleration; the dissociation of Mormonism from religion, in fact, reinforces the authority of tolerance as a value that constrains and shapes the terms of social conflict”. One should not believe, according to Givens, that such labels as “religion” “are objective realities, outside of negotiation or manipulation, rather than the products of political conflict and ideological construction. The how and why of the process by which Mormonism came to be defined as something other than, or in addition to, a religion, tends to be elided in scholarly disputes about what that definition is” (Givens 1997: 21).


Mormonism in Popular Fiction


Some of the best known books concerning Mormonism have been written as “historical” fiction. American authors who have used to this method to write about Mormons include Artemus Ward, Mark Twain, and Zane Gray. Considering the amount of material published about Mormonism in Europe it is not surprising that a number of prominent European authors also showcased Utah and the Mormons in their fictional stories. It is ironic, however, that authors who had never visited Utah were more responsible for creating the dubious negative image of Utah than those who actually wrote first hand travel accounts. Nevertheless, their works were immensely popular and readily accessible whereas books by less well known authors were not.  In addition, as Larry McMurtry has recently observed, “Lies about the West are more important...than truths, which is why the popularity of the pulpers-Louis L’Amour [pseudonym of Louis Dearborn LaMoore, 1908-1988] particularly--has never dimmed.” (McMurtry, 1999, 55) Long before L’Amour was born, Karl May (1842-1912), Balduin Mollhausen (1825-1905), Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), Jules Verne (1828-1905), and Albert Robida (1848-1926) were immensely popular in Europe.  Stevenson, Verne, May, and of course Conan Doyle continue to enjoy widespread popularity not only in Europe but throughout Europe and even in the United States. Their books have been used by politicians to argue in support of proposed legislation and to justify the rejection of elected officials, and even by judges to justify their decisions. 

Many of these writers excluded the Mormon Church from the sphere of religion and categorized it as a deviant threat to the fabric of American society. During the nineteenth century Mormonism became a favorite topic of many authors. Givens has identified fifty-six novels which were written between 1850-1900 which included Mormonism in the plot. Mormonism was included because it was “salacious, lucrative, pious, chivalrous, and patriotic all at once.” (Givens, 1997, 143). More simply stated Mormon polygamy was illicit sex, and illicit sex has always been a seductive and tempting subject. Most authors who used Mormonism as a subject-good and bad-usually poked fun at its “peculiar institution.”

Although it is not difficult to separate Mormonism from mainline Christianity when a restrictive definition of Christianity is adopted it is more difficult to separate Mormonism from the sphere of religion. While polygamy was despised by most Christians during the nineteenth century America, it was practiced in a number of non-Christian religions, and it did not therefore automatically disqualify Mormonism from being a religion. Another rhetorical tool-which became a trademark of anti-Mormon fiction-which was used to claim that Mormonism was not even a religion had its origins in popular psychology. Anti-Mormons concluded that nobody would become a Mormon by making a conscious choice. “Magnetic attraction, compulsion, captivity, enslavement, kidnapping - these words and images pervade virtually the entire gamut of works in which Mormons figure as characters” (Givens 1997: 138). “Historical” accounts of Europeans being “lured” into the Mormon Church, thus, became the latest captivity narratives which had previously concentrated on the plight of Catholic nuns. But Mormon converts-unlike Catholic nuns (despite the stereotype 90% of Catholic nuns are, and were, not cloistered but labor “in the world” as teachers, social workers)-- were not necessarily locked up or held by physical force in closed institutions such as convents. (Of course, the notion that Catholic nuns were “held by physical force” was itself based on apocryphal accounts which were eventually debunked even by Protestant writers.) Instead, the fear of Mesmerism was effectively used to persuade the American public opinion that Mormonism conversions could be explained by referring to a hypnotic paradigm.


Maria Ward and “Mesmerism.”


Maria Ward (which may have been a pseudonym for Elizabeth Cornelia Woodcock Ferris, 1809-1893, wife of Benjamin G. Ferris, 1801-1891, who was Utah Territorial Secretary between 1852-1853), was a widely published anti-Mormon author who claimed to base her accounts on personal experience in Utah Territory. One of her female characters explains that Mormon founder Joseph Smith (1805-1844) “exerted a mystical magical influence over me - a sort of sorcery that deprived me of the unrestricted exercise of free will” (Ward 1855: 38). Ward's heroine discovers that the Mormons’ secret is what “is now popularly known by the name of Mesmerism”. Joseph Smith “came to possess the knowledge of that magnetic influence, several years anterior to its general circulation throughout the country”. The Mormon prophet “obtained his information, and learned all the strokes, and passes and manipulations, from a German peddler, who, notwithstanding his reduced circumstances, was a man of distinguished intellect and extensive erudition. Smith paid him handsomely, and the German promised to keep the secret” (Ward 1855: 230).

Although the story of a German Mesmerist teaching, what in the twentieth century would be called brainwashing techniques, to Mormons was not confirmed by any historical source, it was still repeated for decades in anti-Mormon literature. In fact, Ward may even have influenced the literary creation Svengali--the most famous and sinister “German Mesmerist” of them all-who first appeared in 1894 in a novel entitled Trilby written by George Louis Palmella Busson Du Maurier (“George Du Maurier”, 1834-1896). Svengali, of course, was not only a German but also a Jew; and the novel’s anti-semitism may explain why such a famous book during the nineteenth century has failed to be reprinted more often during the second half of the twentieth century (Pick 2000). (Of course this is also true for other books published during the nineteenth century which depicted various races in negative terms, including Conan Doyle’s play, Angels of Darkness, and books by Robida which are discussed hereafter). Ward’s claims concerning mesmerism practiced by Mormon missionaries--even if they were not mysterious German peddlers-demonstrates how a group perceived as deviant is denied the status of a religion. Since religion is, by rhetorical definition, an exercise of free will, converts only join a non-religion under some sort of coercion. The hypnotic paradigm is connected with a form of otherness (the Mesmerist is a foreigner - a “German”), which mirrors the perceived otherness of the Mormon worldview. The argument is also somewhat circular. Only Mesmerism explains why apparently normal Americans join a group of such intolerable otherness. But, on the other hand, we know that Mesmerism is used by Mormons (while it is not used by Baptist, Methodist and other “respectable” preachers) precisely because this otherness is so extreme that, by definition, it would not be embraced voluntarily.


Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Mormonism


Before writing A Study in Scarlet-- the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes, and perhaps the most famous work of fiction with a Mormon theme-- Arthur Conan Doyle had not visited Utah. Instead, he relied on accounts, such as Maria Ward’s, which were readily available in Great Britain. Conan Doyle had no serious religious interest in Mormonism. He was a serious student of spiritualism, and attempted to expose what he considered to be defects of Mormonism (polygamy, autocratic leadership and the activities of Avenging Angels)-since it was a competitor of spiritualism-- to other investigators. Even though objective accounts-some of which were written by visitors to Utah-- were available to, and were probably consulted by Conan Doyle, he relied on anti-Mormon works-such as Ward’s-- because he believed they were factual. The publisher’s preface to the 1888 edition accurately reflects Conan Doyle’s view that “the description of the deadly Mormon association of tyranny and vengeance, is as true in its features as it is enthralling in interest”. (Doyle, 1888, v.) Nevertheless, the story also demonstrates a certain, perhaps begrudging, admiration for the Mormons’ pioneer spirit and industry in early Utah Territory.

The Mormon episode of A Study in Scarlet concerns a man named John Ferrier and a young girl named Lucy who are stranded in the western American desert, and have abandoned all hopes of survival when they are found by Brigham Young and others on their way to Utah. Although Conan Doyle was probably indebted to various writers for their detailed descriptions of the Mormon trek, particularly Charles MacKay (1814-1889) (1881) and Beadle (1870), he relied most heavily on Robert Louis Stevenson for the idea about a man and a young girl who encountered the Mormons while enroute to Utah. In 1885, Stevenson published a collection of stories in The Dynamiter, which included a tale about the Mormons entitled “Story of the Destroying Angel”; which was very similar to A Study in Scarlet. Conan Doyle later discussed Stevenson’s influence and he noted:

“How are we to forget the lonely fire in the valley, the white figure which dances and screams among the snow, or the horrid ravine in which the caravan is starved” (see Green 1983, 34) 

Conan Doyle’s story follows Ferrier and Lucy to Utah where they join the Mormon Church and become very prosperous. Ferrier accepts all the religious tenets of Mormonism except polygamy:

“He had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such a marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible” (Doyle 1887, 64).

Because of Ferrier’s rejection of that doctrine, Brigham Young visited him at his farm and gave him an ultimatum: his adopted daughter must marry, within thirty days, either Enoch Drebber or Joseph Stangerson, who were both practicing polygamists and sons of two members of the Council of the Sacred Four (a fictitious organization). Accordingly, Young tells Ferrier:

“Upon this one point your whole faith shall be tested - so it has been decided in the Sacred Council of Four. The girl is young, and we would not have her wed grey hairs, neither would we deprive her of all choice. We Elders have many heifers, but our children must also be provided” (Doyle 1887, 68).

Ferrier does not immediately respond to Young’s request. Instead, he contacts Jefferson Hope, who is not a Mormon and who labours in mining camps in Nevada. Hope had previously fallen in love with Lucy and the two were planning to marry before the visit by Brigham Young. Ferrier is apprehensive because of a “vague and terrible power ... exercised only upon the recalcitrants who, having embraced the Mormon faith, wished afterwards to pervert or abandon it”. This “terrible power”, known as “Danites” or “Avenging Angels”, was employed to supply women for the elect:

“Strange rumours began to be bandied about - rumours of murdered immigrants and rifled camps in regions where Indians had never been seen. Fresh women appeared in the harems of the Elders - women who pined and wept, and bore upon their faces the traces of an inextinguishable horror” (Conan Doyle 1887, 64-65).

The activities of the Danites were, of course, a favourite topic of anti-Mormon writers.

Recognising their desperate situation, Hope, who is called the Washoe Hunter because of his residence in Nevada, attempts to help Lucy and her father escape from Utah to Nevada, but they are pursued by Avenging Angels. While Hope is hunting for food, the Avenging Angels abduct Ferrier and kill him. Lucy dies several days later of a broken heart, but only after she is forced to marry Drebber. Before Lucy is buried, Hope bids adieu to Lucy in her casket, takes her wedding ring from her finger and pledges vengeance upon her murderers. Twenty years later, he tracks Drebber and Stangerson in London, after they have apostatised from Mormonism, and kills them. Sherlock Holmes, in his first assignment, is called upon to solve the murders.

When Drebber finally is found murdered, he has a pocket edition of Giovanni Boccaccio’s (1313-1375) Decameron, which contains many stories of sexual debauchery; and laying on the floor is the wedding ring of Lucy. Joseph Rosenberg claims that, Conan Doyle began in A Study in Scarlet what would be a common theme in many of his subsequent stories - that of linking sexual deviation with death and murder. Boccaccio’s book is an obvious allusion to Drebber’s, and other Mormon polygamists seemingly insatiable appetite for illicit sexual gratification. When Ferrier and Lucy are found in the desert, Brigham Young is reading a “brown backed volume”, which could as easily have been The Decameron or The Book of Mormon. Lucy’s ring symbolises the Mormon attempt to legitimise sexual depravity, but the ring is meaningless next to the dead body of Drebber. His death is his reward for his activities and practices which Conan Doyle found so distasteful. In A Study in Scarlet, the real villains are not Drebber, Stangerson, or even Brigham Young. The real villain is Mormonism itself. Not only did it condone and foster the immoral practice of polygamy and illegal activities of the Danites, it was a counterfeit form of religion, in fact a pseudo-religion joined only because of sinister forms of persuasion. 

Conan Doyle also wrote a play using the same Mormon theme which originally bore the same title but which he changed to Angels of Darkness. A Drama in Three Acts. The play takes place in Utah during the first two acts, and in San Francisco during the third act. There are two versions of Act 3, one finished and one unfinished. Although there is no Sherlock Holmes in the play, and John Watson, M.D. is a San Francisco practitioner who falls in love with Lucy and saves the life of Jefferson Hope, the theme is essentially the same. In fact, several of the themes developed in A Study in Scarlet (Danites, polygamy) are further refined in Angels of Darkness and give one a better idea of Conan Doyle’s source material. Until 2001 Angels of Darkness had never been published. Both John Dickson Carr (1906-1901) (1949, 246), and Pierre Nordon (1967, 351) mentioned it in their biographies of Conan Doyle and Richard Lancelyn Green described it in his introduction to The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes. (1983, 47)

Doyle’s harsh judgement of Mormonism would guide his views concerning it for the next thirty-five years, or until he finally visited Utah himself. For example, in a novel published in 1899 entitled A Duet with an Occasional Chorus, Doyle makes reference to the Mormon practice of polygamy even though it had, by then, been officially abandoned. In the book, a husband and wife are discussing former loves, and the wife finds an opportunity to poke fun at the husband at the expense of Mormonism:

“‘Tell me, Frank, did you ever love anyone before me?’

‘Well, in a word, Maude, I was always in love with someone.’

Her face clouded over...

‘Well!’ said she at last.

‘Must I go on?’

‘Yes, I may as well hear it.’

‘You’ll only be cross.’

‘We’ve gone to far to stop. And I’m not cross, Frank. Only pained a little. But I do appreciate your frankness. I had no idea you were such a - such a Mormon’.” She began to laugh (Doyle 1899, 137).


Other allusions to Mormonism in Doyle’s non-fiction works are equally uncomplimentary (see Doyle 1919, 18; Doyle 1930, 197-198).

When Doyle finally visited Utah in May 1923, almost forty years after the publication of A Study in Scarlet, and after making other comments concerning Mormon polygamy and the Danites’ “murderous impulses,” he was understandably apprehensive. But he was relieved after addressing a near-capacity crowd in the Salt Lake Tabernacle concerning his own psychic experiences and those of other recorded on “spirit photographs”. As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune on May 13, 1923, he praised the Mormons for their “breadth of view” and their forebears for their “pioneer pluck”. Recalling his experiences in South Africa during the Boer War, the Mormon pioneers reminded him of the Boers: “rugged, hard-faced men, the brave and earnest women who look as if they had known much suffering and hardship”.

However, Conan Doyle was also reminded by several church members of his previous uncomplimentary characterisation of Mormons. Dr. George Hodgson Higgins (1853-1927), a Mormon convert from Lancashire, England, delivered a letter to him at the Hotel Utah in which he complained that his first impressions of Mormonism had been tainted by Conan Doyle’s work and that “the book gave one the impression that murder was a common practice among them”. Higgins requested Conan Doyle to “express his regret at having propagated falsehoods about the Mormon Church and people” (Higgins 1923). Conan Doyle reassured Higgins that in his future memoirs he would write of the Mormons as he found them on his visit, but that “all I said about the Danite band and the murders is historical, so I cannot withdraw that, tho’ it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It is best to let the matter rest”. (Doyle, 1923). After Conan Doyle left Utah he was also criticized by Charles W. Nibley (1849-1931), the Mormon Presiding Bishop, who claimed that “The Elders of the Mormon Church considered seriously before allowing Conan Doyle to speak in the Mormon Tabernacle...when he attacked us so bitterly in his book ‘A Study in Scarlet.’” Conan Doyle responded by expressing his “great respect for the Mormons” and his sorrow for “uncharitable and false statement” of Nibley. (Nibley, 1923, 2). 

When he returned to England Doyle wrote favourably of his visit to Utah. He also indicated that A Study in Scarlet was “a rather sensational and overcoloured picture of the Danite episodes which formed a passing stain in the early history of Utah”. He also noted that he refused to apologize because “the facts were true enough, though there were many reasons which might extenuate them” (Doyle 1924, 87). Doyle also claimed (quite incorrectly) that polygamy “had nothing whatever to do with the original teaching of Smith’s revelation, but was entirely a later growth, and is now heartily repudiated. But the memory of it remains to show the danger of so-called inspirational teaching in worldly matters”. (1924, 97-98) He agreed that “one’s own conscience and judgement must keep constant guard. For want of this, some of the early spiritualists received counsels as to free love which casted a deserved slur upon the growing movement. So it was with Smith. He had revelations which could have come from no high source” (Doyle 1924, 102). Finally, Doyle (1927, 104) wrote that this doctrine “may also serve as a warning against the indiscriminate adoption of supposed revelations, which, in the case of polygamy, have done so much harm to the movement”.

Interestingly enough, Doyle’s references to Mormonism became more benign after his visit to Utah (see e.g. Doyle 1926a, vol. I, 36; Doyle 1926b, 235). None of Doyle’s other works where Mormons are mentioned, however, became as famous and popular as A Study in Scarlet, and it was its stereotypical contribution to the popular image of the Mormons that entered, through Sherlock Holmes, the Western world’s social imagination with permanent effects.


Verne, Robida, and the Mormons


Jules Verne, the most popular French author of adventure fiction during the nineteenth century, published his famous Le Tour du monde en quarte-vingts jours in 1872. An English translation was published the following year. In Verne’s book Phineas Fogg, and his servant Passepartout travel through Utah on the Union Pacific Railroad. During the journey a Mormon missionary named Elder William Hitch boards the train and delivers a lecture on Mormonism. Passepartout attends the lecture and remains even after most of the audience has left the car because of the missionary’s aggressive sales pitch. From Ogden, where the train “rested for six hours”, Fogg and his party “had time to pay a visit to Salt Lake City, connected with Ogden by a branch road”.

The streets were almost deserted, except in the vicinity of the Temple, which they only reached after having traversed several quarters surrounded by palisades.  There were many women, which was easily accounted for by the ‘peculiar institution’ of the Mormons; but it must not be supposed that all the Mormons are polygamists.  They are free to marry or not, as they please; but it is worth noting that it is mainly the female citizens of Utah who are anxious to marry, as, according to the Mormon religion, maiden ladies are not admitted to the possession of its highest joys.  These poor creatures seemed to be neither well off nor happy.  Some - the more well-to-do, no doubt - wore short, open black silk dresses, under a hood or modest shawl; others were habited in Indian fashion.

Passepartout could not behold without a certain fright these women, charged, in groups, with conferring happiness on a single Mormon.  His common-sense pitied, above all, the husband.  It seemed to him a terrible thing to have to guide so many wives at once across the vicissitudes of life, and to conduct them, as it were, in a body to the Mormon paradise, with the prospect of seeing them in the company of the glorious Smith, who doubtless was the chief ornament of that delightful place, to all eternity.  He felt decidedly repelled from such a vocation, and he imagined - perhaps he was mistaken - that the fair ones of Salt Lake City cast rather alarming glances on his person.  Happily, his stay there was but brief (Verne 1873, 216).

Verne’s Tour of the World became so famous that it generated a number of parodies. Albert Robida, had achieved fame as a gifted illustrator before turning 20 years old. In 1869, at age 19, he drew a series of cartoons (very similar to a modern comic), entitled “Le Mormonisme à Paris” (“Mormonism in Paris”), which were published in Paris-Caprice on March 13, 1869 (Robida 1869). Robida satirized both Mormonism (with mandatory references to polygamy) and the prominent French feminist, Olympe Audouard (1830-1890), who visited Utah in 1869 and wrote a surprisingly sympathetic description of polygamy. Audouard’s lectures were, according to Robida, “beginning to have an unexpected effect...half of Paris has already converted to Mormonism!!!!” In 1879, Robida published, in instalments, Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 5 ou 6 parties du monde et dans tous les pays connus et même inconnus de M. Jules Verne (“Most Extraordinary Travels of Saturnin Farandoul in the 5 or 6 Parts of the World and in all the Countries Known and Even Unknown by Mr. Jules Verne”). While Verne’s tour around the world blurred fact and fiction, causing some readers to suspend disbelief, most of Robida’s tales-which included his own illustrations-- were parodies aimed at creating humor through exaggeration rather than attempting to tell believable adventure stories. Although Farandoul was never translated into English, it had both authorized and pirate Spanish and Italian editions. In Italy, Robida’s Farandoul was almost as popular as Verne’s Tour of the World. One of the first Italian silent movies, was about Farandoul. Le avventure straordinarissime di Saturnino Farandola, which was released in 1913, was directed by Marcel Fabre (pseudonym of Marcel Fernández Peréz, ?-1929), who also starred in the title role. In 1938-39 the story was serialized in the Italian comic magazine Topolino (“Mickey Mouse”), which was republished several times. In 1977, Italian television also produced a series on Farandoul (Saturnino Farandola, by Raffaele Meloni) starring a popular actor named Mariano Rigillo). In 1959 a spoof on the spoof was even published. That year a comic was published which featured the character of “Paperino Girandola”, or Donald Duck (“Paperino” in Italian) in the role of Farandoul. It also went through several reprints. The very existence of this comic book shows that Farandoul was a literary reference which was immediately recognizable by most Italian children and teen-agers. This was also  confirmed in 1979 when another well-known author of Italian comic books, Bonvi (Franco Bonvicini), produced another spoof of Farandoul, both as a comic and as a televsion cartoon, known as “Marzolino Tarantola”. For whatever reason, as Farandoul gradually became less popular in France it became increasingly popular in Italy. Today it is out of print in the country where it was originally published. 

Farandoul has a rich (and richly illustrated) section about Mormonism. Farandoul, his second-in-command Mandibul, and the mariners of their ship Belle Léocadie (including the Breton Tournesol), “tired of the solitary life”, decide to convert to Mormonism and embrace polygamy. Farandoul telegraphs Brigham Young announcing his conversion:

“Brigham Young, delighted and flattered to have won for his religion such an important recruit, said he was placing himself at the entire disposal of Saturnin.

During the last few hours of the journey, the telegrams flew to and from:

"Found a splendid opportunity. Senator just divorced from spouses. Sixteen well-assorted women. Would throw in seventeenth into the bargain. Do you wish to avail yourself? Many applicants, but you would have preference.

Brigham Young

"Accepted. Thank you. Lieut. Mandibul wonders whether similar opportunity for him.


"Six negresses and a Chinese for the asking. Don't speak French. Do we negotiate?

Brigham Young

"Mandibul additionally asks for half-dozen white women for the sweet chit-chat in the home"


"I've found them. Asked before closing whether Lieut. Mandibul is fair-haired."

Brigham Young

"Blazing fair hair. Another request. Tournesol [Sunflower], thirty-three, volcanic temperament. Would like Mexican women?"


"Mandibul match made. A big lot of Mexican ladies for Tournesol. I shall be at the station."

Brigham Young”

 (Robida 1879, 171-72)


A wedding is organized in Salt Lake City with due fanfare:

“At the station exit, the cortège went straight to the temple, where the registry documents had been prepared.  All that was needed was a few rapid signatures and everyone repaired to the Great Polygamy Hotel, in the gala room of which, a magnificent banquet for three thousand had been provided by the municipality of Salt Lake City to the new converts.

Brigham Young, the bishops and the elders honored with their presence this gigantic dinner, at which seas of Champagne were poured in honor of Farandoul.  We have no intention of reporting all the incidents, nor of enumerating the toasts which were proposed to Mormonism, to the old and new faithful, and to their amiable fractions, as Mandibul said, referring to his wives, who were too numerous to be called his moieties or better halves”. (Robida 1879, 174-75)

Farandoul makes a great speech in favor of Mormonism and polygamy, and is made a Mormon Bishop on the spot. Unbeknownst to Farandoul, Brigham Young believes that he could be a possible rival, and therefore plans the Frenchman’s murder (an obvious allusion to the popular Danite theme) while Farandoul is home expecting a pleasant evening in the company of his seventeen wives.

“The ringing of the bell roused him from his ponderings; the seventeen ladies discreetly withdrew, leaving him alone with his visitor.

The latter had simply come to tell him that a meeting of the council of elders would be taking place that very evening, and Brigham Young asked the new bishop to honor the occasion with his presence, if the rigors of the journey allowed him to.

‘Lead on!’ said Farandoul.

And the indefatigable Saturnin, pausing only to offer a few words of explanation to the ladies, followed in the departing footsteps of Brigham Young's messenger (...).

Night had fallen.  Our hero was walking down the dark avenue which led to the Great Mormon Temple.

Unsuspecting, he had not noticed some shadowy figures following him noiselessly, while other shadows hid behind each tree.

His thoughts returned to his seventeen wives, and the smiling future which beckoned to him.  Not a single dark shadow on the horizon, not a cloud in his sky...

Suddenly, an owl-hoot sounded behind him, and a cascade of human beings bore down upon his shoulders before he realized what had happened, and despite a desperate struggle, his assailants had thrown him to the ground, then bound and gagged him.

These men were masked!  Even so, Farandoul thought he could make out among them two of Brigham Young's followers whom he had glimpsed at the banquet.  It was all plain to him!

Horses were brought, and the bandits tied Farandoul tightly onto the liveliest of the steeds and leapt into their saddles”. (Robida 1879, 180-81)


Thereafter Brigham Young orders Apache warriors to kidnap and kill Farandoul (an allusion to the Mountain Meadows massacre), but the French traveler pacifies them by painting designs on their skin. But he eventually falls from grace because he spends too much time with their squaws, particularly Rising Moon, the wife of Red Buffalo. He runs off with her into the wilderness, while being pursued by Apache warriors. Farandoul must kill two grizzlies to save their lives, and they wear their skins to disguise themselves. After taking refuge from their pursuers in a cave full of real grizzlies, the pair travel down the Colorado River, still pursued by Apaches. They are dispatched over a waterfall by a ruse of the nimble-witted Farandoul. He and his consort meet two trappers who first fire at them, mistaking them for real grizzlies, then offered to take them to Santa Fe, two days' journey away. 

Farandoul's first thought is to telegraph Mandibul at Salt Lake City. A reply soon arrives. Mandibul and his companions, when they learn of the disappearance of their chief, had abandoned their wives. In the meantime,

“Farandoul returned to the telegraph office; a message in the following terms was dispatched to Brigham Young: ‘You rascal, what have you done with my seventeen wives? Farandoul. Reply paid’.

Brigham Young replied with a telegram which betrayed his astuteness and hypocrisy.

‘Sir, After the incomprehensible flight which showed us that you were not a sincere Mormon, your spouses, blushing for shame at having ever, for one instant, been united to a man as bereft of convictions, are petitioning for divorce. An honorable Mormon, Matheus Bikelow, appointed Bishop in your stead, has afforded the shelter of his home to them. He has married them and will not abandon them!

Once again, Sir, your conduct has been unworthy, and I would suggest that you never show yourself again in the city of the Saints. Brigham Young”’.

Since the reply had been paid, Brigham, as we can see, had not been over-spare with his words. Farandoul turned next to Bikelow, and asked for his seventeen wives back” (Robida 1879, 207-08).


Farandoul and Bikelow agreed on setting the dispute through a duel and the Frenchman suggested that “each adversary shall be mounted on a locomotive. Both trains shall leave at the same time from New York and San Francisco, to collide in the middle of the Central Pacific Railroad line” (Robida 1879, 208).

Bikelow had to accept Farandoul's challenge. The latter's crew had been vainly searching for their captain, when in Nevada they came upon the news of Farandoul's duel with Bikelow. They join Farandoul as he prepares to leave New York taking with him the special train with which he is to confront Bikelow. The opponents are to meet at the Devil's Bridge, spanning the Nebraska river. The duel attracts considerable public attention, and people gather in Nebraska waiting for the two trains, armed with swivel-mounted cannon, to come together. As they meet, a murderous exchange of fire damages Farandoul's train, but Bikelow's train causes the bridge to collapse, and plunges over a hundred feet into the river. The speed of Farandoul's train causes it to reach the abutment in time. "Now that honor is satisfied", declares Farandoul, “I renounce all seventeen ungrateful women; please telegraph the fact to Brigham Young" (Robida 1879, 212-216).

In 1882, Robida began publishing installments of another novel entitled Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century). One year later these installments were collected and published in a book. Although the book was less influential than Farandoul on Latin European youth and in popular culture, it is now regarded as Robida’s masterpiece, and remains in print in France. It has been translated into English in 2004 in a critical edition by Wesleyan University Press. It is a humorous science fiction novel, in which Robida anticipated in astonishing detail some of the inventions of the twentieth century, including telephones and airplanes. Mormonism is a side theme in the novel. The setting of the novel is in France and England in 1953.  Robida explains that in 1910, the United States had become three nations:  a Chinese republic in the West, with its capital at New-Nanking (San Francisco), a German empire in the East with its capital at New-Berlin (formerly New York City), and a Mormon republic (formerly "the old states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, etc.,"), headquartered at Salt Lake City.  The Mormons, sensing that their country would become the inevitable battlefield and plunder of the two larger American nations, turned their attention to their mother country of England, particularly when the British government fled to India.  In a matter of ten years, the Mormonization of England was complete. “The land of the expression, "shocking!," has become the most shocking country on the planet.  The House of Lords is now the House of Bishops, and to be eligible for election to the House of Commons, one must have at least eight wives” (Robida 1883, 316).  New landmarks include the Great Temple, modeled after that of Salt Lake City, and, in Hyde Park, the Palace of the head of state (who is both pope and president of the Mormon republics of Europe and America).  Windsor Castle is now a retirement estate "for widows of bishops and archbishops, etc., etc." (Robida 1883, 315)


Monsieur Ponto, a Paris financier, has unwisely sent his son Philippe to England, now the most dangerous country in Europe, on a crucial banking matter.  Philippe has dropped out of sight, and his father's concern is only heightened when he finally receives a letter - something fairly rare in this modern day of telephone calls:

 “Bachelor's-Prison, August 7, 1953

My dear father,

Such a funny country Mormonism has made of this New-England - how I would laugh if I were not in prison at the moment!  Rest assured that I have murdered no one, nor committed the slightest misdemeanor.  I am simply locked up in Bachelor's-Prison as a matrimonial insubordinate.  Don't laugh, this is very serious! . . .

After coming out of the Calais tunnel, I found the aerocab of our London correspondent, Mr. Percival Douglas, as planned, and this gentleman looked after me himself.  Just as we were leaving for the bank, I noticed a crowd on the docks in front of two enormous transatlantic dirigibles swarming with people.  People were running, jostling to get close to these.

"So what is that?"  I asked Percival Douglas.

"It is an arrival of wives," he replied coolly.

I began to laugh, naturally, and asked to see the arrival a little more closely.  Our aerocab parked ten meters above the docks.  On the decks of the dirigibles I saw hundreds of young ladies and women of all colors and conditions, some well dressed and covered with jewels, draped in superb clothing - others poorly clothed.

"What is this?" I said:  "yellow women, white or swarthy, even Negresses . . ."

"It is the overflow of the Indies, of America and Australia," replied Percival;  "there, they only marry one wife.  Many young women therefore remain unprovided for;  the agencies which we have in the five parts of the world enroll them for the promised land of the New-England . . ."

"Then all the ladies of this arrival will find spouses?"

"They will be conducted to the Marriage Docks, where they will remain until they receive a proposal."

I broke into laughter.  Since the institutions of the New-England are not widely known, I was ignorant of such useful docks! . . . they look like a massive Eastern inn.  Four groups of buildings, eight stories of rooms, kitchens and work rooms where the young women demonstrate their abilities to visitors, drawing rooms, a garden where all are admitted.  Superb!  The structure is surmounted by a lighthouse . . .  the Marriage Beacon.  Its emblematic fires shine over the entire city of London, reminding those who are interested that they can come to the docks to light other flames.  A civil officer of the state, established in the lighthouse itself, keeps his registers open all hours of the day and night.

. . . . .The first person I saw the next day was a preacher who came to talk to me about the beauties of Mormonism.  As he left, he gave me an assortment of Bibles and pamphlets:  Mormon Virtue, by Rev. J.-F. Hobson;  Shame on the Bachelor, Pity the Monogamous, sermon preached at the great temple by Mr. Clakwell, vendor of imitation Champagne wines, and archbishop;  The Art of Managing Women, treatise by Mr. Fred. Twic, Mormon archbishop, etc., etc. . .. » 

(Robida 1883, 312-14)


Young Ponto is quite surprised:

This strange country!  The men drink, smoke or sing hymns in the taverns while the women stay at home and work.  Only  the poor devils who have but one or two wives need labor.  For the others - the lucky gallants fortunate enough to bring seven or eight "misses" before the civil officer - life passes tranquil and happy.  I made it into several patriarchs' homes, and saw that the motto was order and discipline!  The husband is head;  he is venerated and pampered.  Besides, in each district and ward there is a sort of guard-room or house of correction for wives who might be contrary or rebellious.  One word from a husband to the superintendent of police, and the policewomen come to find the guilty wife and take her to the Correctional House, where solitude and the sermons of preachers assigned to the institution induce salutary reflection.

. . . . .Last Sunday morning, as I was descending from the aerocab to the pavement of Regent Street (with the idea of taking a walk before lunch), I noticed that passers-by looked at me strangely.  Fathers threw me irritated looks, and when ladies saw me, their gestures showed I was an object of horror to them.  I racked my brains in vain to figure out the reason for these repulsive manifestations when suddenly, two policewomen, sent by an old woman, came and seized me by the arms.

"Are you married?" they asked me.

"No!" I replied, surprised.

 "No spouse?"

"None at all!"


And they grabbed me resolutely by the collar.  I offered no resistance.  We thus arrived at the coroner's. This magistrate began by putting the same question to me:  "Are you married? ­- No, Sir, not yet! - Then, you are a bachelor? - Apparently! -  This is serious!  very serious!"

The coroner murmured, regarding me with a disapproving air.  "I shall be obliged to send you to bachelors' prison."

- "But I am a foreigner!"

- "Everyone we arrest says that!"

  - "But listen to me, you can tell very well from my accent that I am French!"

 - "Everyone speaks French, more or less - that doesn't prove anything.  Do you have papers?"

 - "You know very well there haven't been passports since the Middle Ages."

 - "Then too bad for you, I'm sending you to Bachelor's Prison.  Enter your protests as you are able."

The episode seemed so funny that I let them take me to Bachelor's Prison, curious to experience this Bastille of unfortunate celibates.

But, oh!  the walls, ten meters high, the barred windows, the massive doors:  this is a serious prison.  The turnkey-esse (for at Bachelor's Prison the turnkeys are turnkey-esses) listed me coldly on the register and had me taken to a cell furnished with a bed, a table and a chair.  Another jailor-esse brought me a bundle of old ropes and uttered a single word:  "Work!"  I asked for an explanation.  I am condemned to eight days of forced labor:  if I want to eat lunch and dinner, I must unwind the hemp of these old ropes, without cease, from six o'clock in the morning until six o'clock in the evening.  At six o'clock I eat, and at seven o'clock I go to chapel where I hear Mormon sermons until midnight.

This sort of existence hardly seems entertaining, and I dream of getting out.” (Robida 1883, 315-18)


In the end, it turns out that Percival Douglas is letting poor Philippe rot in Bachelor's Prison until he might agree to marry the Douglas daughters.  Philippe is saved in the nick of time by a good-looking young girl who is his father's secretary, sent to London and appearing at the prison, pretending to be Philippe's wife.


Mormonism, Stereotypes, and Popular Culture


Conan Doyle and Robida discuss similar themes and are obviously indebted to the same sources (accounts, both neutral and hostile, of Mormonism, which were quite common during the late nineteenth century in Europe). Robida is mostly interested in satirizing Jules Verne, and in creating humorous situations, which are easily realized when dealing with polygamy. Conan Doyle’s adventures include a more serious and dramatic representation of Mormonism and what he believed to be its inherent violence. Similarly in Robida’s account, humorous as it is, Brigham Young’s first reaction to what he perceives as Farandoul’s excessive popularity is to plan his murder by Danite ruffians. In turn, Maria Ward’s book was, ostensibly, fiction but she had an obvious anti-Mormon agenda, which was only partially shared by Conan Doyle (and probably uninteresting for Robida). The difference in style and purpose is obvious; yet, a certain continuity exists.

Popular fiction, whose immediate theme is entertainment, plays an important role in sustaining stereotypes about religions and other minorities perceived as “other”, “bizarre”, or “fringe”. Works by Conan Doyle and Robida, popular as they were (Doyle’s on a worldwide scale, Robida in France, Italy, and Spain), were part and parcel of the social construction of the stereotypical anti-Mormon cliché during the nineteenth century. Jules Verne’s references to Mormonism were probably too quick to be really influential; Verne, however, influenced both Robida and Doyle.

This is not to suggest that, unlike Maria Ward, novelists such as Doyle and Robida had themselves an agenda in terms of perpetuating stereotypes and sponsoring discrimination. Successful popular culture is neither ideology nor propaganda, but may include elements of both. Propaganda disguised as entertainment fiction is rarely successful. Good fiction, on the other hand, may pick up elements of propaganda from external sources, and more or less advertently disseminate them to much larger audiences. Readers who would never be directly interested in religious propaganda may be exposed to it as filtered and re-interpreted by the authors of entertainment fiction. The latter genre, thus, plays an important if neglected role in propagating stereotypes about minority religions, and certainly deserves further study.


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