Strategies of Representation, Relationship, and Resistance: British Women Travelers and Mormon Plural Wives, c. 1870-1890

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Annals of the Association of American Geographers





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During the 1870s and 1880s, several British women writers traveled by transcontinental railroad across the American West via Salt Lake City, Utah, the capital of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. These women subsequently wrote books about their travels for a home audience with a taste for adventures in the American West, and particularly for accounts of Mormon plural marriage, which was sanctioned by the Church before 1890. "The plight of the Mormon woman," a prominent social reform and literary theme of the period, situated Mormon women at the center of popular representations of Utah during the second half of the nineteenth century. "The Mormon question" thus lends itself to an analysis of how a stereotyped subaltern group was represented by elite British travelers. These residents of western American territories, however, differed in important respects from the typical subaltern subjects discussed by Victorian travelers. These white, upwardly mobile, and articulate Mormon plural wives attempted to influence observers' representations of them through a variety of narrative strategies. Both British women travel writers and Mormon women wrote from the margins of power and credibility, and as interpreters of the Mormon scene were concerned to established their representational authority.

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