B. Carmon Hardy, review in Journal of Mormon History 25.2 (Fall 1999), 222-227.
Hardy discusses the added insight that this book gives into Joseph Smith as polygamist. He mentions the human cost of polyandry: "The cruel, well-known story of Henry Jacobs and Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs, especially Henry's heart-rending odyssey after Zina's marriage to Brigham Young, is retold in powerful detail. The experience of Zina's older sister, Presendia Lathrop Huntington Buell, another polyandrous wife, is movingly laid before us with its amalgam of deception, heartache and spiritual devotion."
"Of greater importance than information about Smith, and central to the book's intent, are the women he married. Too frequently our histories grant them little more than vague identities, leaving them overshadowed by the hero patriarchs of Mormonism's early years. And what this book reveals is that most often their lives were riddled with great hardship, secrecy, and feelings of disregard." "Few images in the book evoke more pathos than Compton's account of Emily Partridge, ignored by Joseph after Emma ejected her, Hagar-like, from the Mansion House." "The largest effect left by the book is that the women were as real and human as ourselves."
Hardy criticizes my method of documentation, without numbered endnotes; he also disagrees with my analysis of Levirate marriages and my use of the "exchange of women" model.
"Nevertheless, Compton succeeds in establishing his central thesis: the 'tragic ambiguity' of the women Smith chose as plural companions (xiii). He accomplishes this, in part, by his sensitive style and in part by questioning his own inferences, by doubling back on the evidence to suggest alternative interpretations." "In Sacred Loneliness is a major work that will long be essential to anyone studying Mormon history. Apart from the illumination the stories provide concerning the Prophet himself, Todd Compton's portraits of Smith's plural companions elevate the importance of women in Mormonism generally."
"Because he paints those in the early Church, both men and women, with flesh tones and earth pigments, there will undoubtedly be attempts to diminish the work's credibility by searching for the inevitable, occasional error and criticizing the author's naturalistic approach. But such a reading will miss the deeper, humane achievement of this book. Moreover, Compton consistently makes a large effort to be both fair and empathetic in his renderings. When accounts differ, he presents them honestly, leaving the reader to decide which is preferable . . . The quantity of detail summoned in sifting through these lives and dealing with such questions will invite profitable revisiting of Compton's book again and again by historians of every bias."
ISL is "a massive and path-breaking, 788-page study" . . . The core of the book consists of "thirty well-written and thoroughly documented chapters" . . . that retell the lives of the 33 women in ISL. Compton "masterfully reconstructs the often poignant stories of these women without reducing them to stereotypical heroines or victims, as so many earlier accounts have done."
"Equally if not more important, Compton has provided in this study the massive primary documentation from widely scattered sources that will allow both scholars and the general public alike to form their own opinions about just what was going on in Joseph Smith's polygamous relationships. . . . Only someone who has worked closely with these documents can comprehend Compton's full achievement in identifying and providing detailed quotations . . . from virtually all of the most relevant portions of this substantial corpus of primary materials . . ."
Foster disagrees with my characterization of Joseph Smith's marriages to already-married women as "polyandrous." He also disagrees with my characterization of Fanny Alger's relationship with Joseph Smith as an authentic marriage; Foster believes it was regarded as a polygamous marriage ex post facto.
"From a larger perspective, this and other scholarly reservations that one might have about ISL are far less significant than the remarkable achievement of this study. Just as the superb biography Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda K. Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery for the first time presented a full, sympathetic, and well-rounded scholarly analysis of the life of Joseph Smith's dynamic but much misunderstood first wife, ISL provides a thorough, sympathetic, and well-rounded scholarly analysis of thirty-three other women who also sustained important relationships with the Mormon prophet."
In Sacred Loneliness: the
Plural Wives of Joseph Smith.
Signature. 1998. c. 824p. permanent
paper. index. LC 96-19033. ISBN 1-
56085-085-X. $39.95. HIST
Formerly at UCLA and now the editor of Mormonism and Early Christianity, Compton has compiled a meticulously researched and masterly study of Mormon Joseph Smith's 33 wives. The women are presented individually, with many of their own documents cited. Compton contends that "Mormon polygamy was characterized by a tragic ambiguity": infinite dominion in the next life vs. a social system that did not work, thus resulting in acute neglect of the wives. These "key women have been comparatively forgotten," surprisingly so considering the reverence Mormons hold for their founding prophet and how important polygamy was to Smith. The "sacred loneliness" refers to Smith's promise of salvation combined with the solitude of the forsaken multiple wives. A plenary reference and bibliography and a collection of the wives' photographs fill out this tome, making it a fascinating work. Valuable for both lay readers and scholars, this is recommended for public and academic libraries and good collections in history and women's studies.--Kay Meredith Dusheck, Anamosa, IA
Gerald John Kloss, in Latter Day Saint History, vol. 11, ______ , pp. 53-55. "In this tremendous volume, researcher and author Todd Compton reveals the personal stories of these womenwhom Joseph Smith loved, married . . . This text is a must for anyone who even has had questions or a curiosity regarding polygamy and Joseph Smith's role in it."
Vern L. Bullough, "What God Has Joined," Free Inquiry vol. __ (Summer 1998), 63-64. Essentially a summary of my book. "In the book, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Todd Compton, a cautious and careful scholar, has managed to reconstruct the lives of Smith's 33 documented wives, most of whom had previously been known only by name."
Joni Wilson, The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 18 ([September] 1998), 149-51. Wilson writes that the footnote system of ISL is not "serious" and "erodes" the book's validity. Though the stories of these women are "interesting and thorough," the book overall "lacks something as a historical work of lasting impression."
Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, FARMS Review of Books 10.2 ([Nov.?] 1998), 67-104. Anderson, a member of the BYU Religion Department, has published especially on the early, New York period of Joseph Smith and Mormon history. Faulring, now a researcher with FARMS/BYU, edited the diaries of Joseph Smith for Signature Books. Anderson and Faulring, though they say that there is some useful research found in my book, characterize it as "dissonant" and driven by "negativism." They seem to place ISL in the Brodie camp by characterizing it as failed psychohistory and reflecting naturalistic (atheistic) biases. They write that my "Achilles heel" in creating my list of wives is my reliance on early lists, especially the lists of conservative Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson and apostle Orson Whitney. Thus they disallow four of the women on my list.
For the author's own perspective on his religious biases, see ISL 629.
Danel W. Bachman, FARMS Review of Books 10.2 ([Nov.?] 1998), 105-37. Bachman published a landmark master's thesis on Joseph Smith's polygamy at Purdue University in 1975, and presently teaches at the LDS Institute at Utah State University in Logan. Bachman writes that I have "taken the bait" of Mormon arch-villains John C. Bennett and Joseph Jackson in my treatment of early plural marriage. He describes my analysis of Nauvoo polygamy as "pure fantasy with little or no relationship to what really happened in the early church." He accuses me of editing out any positive elements in these women's lives and including only the tragic. He asserts that my book is largely based on speculation, rather than on significant research, and that my historical analysis is "elementary." Like Anderson and Faulring, he informs his readers that I have naturalistic (atheistic) perspectives, and that these a priori biases, rather than evidence, shaped ISL.
Jeanne Murphy, review in The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 19 ([December] 1998), 128-35. Murphy initially states "this review will not attempt to hide the bias that I have as an RLDS member." "I believe that Compton has written an important book. It is important because it always strives to view the practice of polygamy through the lens of how plural wives coped with implementing and living-out polygamy. It is sympathetic to the problems that women faced in nineteenth-century America and in the very partiarchal Mormon culture. I was very impressed with the extensive documentation . . ."
However, Murphy feels that ISL's portrayal of Joseph Smith as a polygamist is not convincing. She discusses at great length Joseph Smith III and his interview with Melissa Lott Willes and takes issues with my interpretation that he experienced cognitive dissonance when faced with evidence of his father's polygamy. She feels that Josephine Lyon Fisher as a child of Joseph Smith, Jr., has not been convincingly documented because there is only one source for the relationship. In her view, ISL portrays Emma in an excessively negative light, as "powerful, controlling, jealous, and vindictive." Murphy also writes that the LDS reminiscences of Joseph Smith as polygamist, especially Emily Partridge Young's, portray Joseph Smith as "a weak spineless husband," therefore Murphy finds them historically unreliable.
Author's comments: On the subject of Emma Smith, I greatly regret that any RLDS reader would feel that I had singled Emma out in an unsympathetic way. In fact, I have great sympathy and enormous respect for Emma. But in ISL, I looked at the narratives of the women I accepted as his plural wives, not at the writings and viewpoint of the first wife. (Newell and Avery had already looked at the story from the perspective of Emma.) I don't think either Emma or the plural wives were wrong or right. They both had conflicting, understandable perspectives.
On the subject of Josephine Fisher as Joseph Smith's child -- actually, there are two pieces of evidence -- Murphy failed to mention the Angus Cannon statement, see ISL 637. I think both documents are valuable, and taken together are impressive. However, I agree that, as in much of history, there is probability or "strong possibility" here, not absolute certainty. You can find ways to reject the Fisher affidavit and Cannon. (Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott Faulring, Utah Mormons, would join with Murphy in rejecting the Fisher affidavit, if I remember correctly.)