The Giant Joshua – Chapters One and Two

By Lynne Larson

White and crimson, or black and yellow and blue — behind her and ahead and around her — spewed in fantastic violence, in every shade and nuance, the colors of this unreal landscape glittered with such intensity that she closed her eyes and for a moment her breath clung to her throat. She felt hemmed in with untamed, imponderable forces . . . between the two black ridges lay the valley of sagebrush where she was going to spend the rest of her life — the valley that was already named, President Young had told them, the city of St. George. (The Giant Joshua, p. 3-4)

            As Maurine Whipple’s heroine, Clorinda MacIntyre is vividly presented with her new home in the first pages of The Giant Joshua, we as readers are introduced to “Clory” herself, and we meet a dozen other sharply-drawn characters as well. We will come to intimately know them all as we turn the pages of  the novel. There is bearded, rigid Abijah, with his Scottish brogue, the strict family patriarch, whom the teenaged Clory has recently married. At this point, he is still ‘Uncle Abijah’ to her, since the marriage has not yet been consummated, an event she is anticipating with both apprehension and girlish curiosity. There are Bathsheba and Wilhelmina, Abijah’s other wives, the former mean-spirited, imperious, and superstitious, with a prominent wart on her jutting chin, the latter soft, shy, easily subdued, and surely Bathsheba’s foil. With these are Abijah’s sons, including Freeborn, enraptured with pretty Clory, as any teenaged boy might be. The band of pioneers includes cheery Lon Tuckett, a tailor who loves to sing and quote original verse through all his hardships, and his very pregnant German immigrant wife Betsy. Also the Hichinopers, a happy couple so worried about their firstborn baby, they carry it up hill and down on a pillow, lest it ever feel neglected. They and the others make up a caravan of Saints sent by Brigham Young to establish the Cotton Mission in southern Utah’s Dixie.

 Character introduction is the first order of business in these early chapters. Even the notorious John D. Lee appears, as our travelers pass through the settlement of Washington, and the young, awe-stricken Clory is reminded that “this was the John D. Lee of that Mountain Meadows Massacre story! Brother Lee didn’t look like a killer; he looked untroubled and kindly . . . she resolved to question Abijah [about him].” And the sensitive reader can be certain Lee will emerge from the shadows again.

Whipple is an omniscient narrator; we see the introductory scenes of Chapters One and Two mainly through Clory’s eyes, and we learn the most about her, how she likes to flirt with Free, how she remembers the “soft kisses” of Rolph, a boyfriend in Salt Lake, how at seventeen she is still “fluttery” and less pious than the older wives. But several paragraphs are also devoted to the private ponderings of Abijah as he contemplates his patriarchal duties in this new land, and most of all, how he will approach his new young wife when the timing is appropriate. Neither are Bathsheba’s solitary thoughts neglected — Bathsheba, wide awake long after Abijah had come to bed and dropped into snoring slumber, admitted in her heart that she had taken the Lord’s name in vain and prayed for deliverance from her sin–– and even Freeborn’s secrets are revealed as he wonders “if he might find in the new settlement a girl who could make him forget Clory.”

But the faith and determination (and superstition) of her characters is not demonstrated in their thoughts alone. In the second chapter Whipple uses the sweat, toil, and danger of an ascent over the final ridge, paired with the ticking clock of Betsy Tuckett about to give birth, to breathe life into her rugged pioneers. A treacherous uphill grind is “a back-breaking job, normally taking a day, two days. But Abijah was not only a slave-driver; he was a man of faith. He needed a miracle . . . nevertheless, hours later, it was with misgiving that he again faced the steep angle, and lowering into the climb and puffing beside the beasts, headed his oxen for the naked red ruts. Slipping, tugging, grunting —- and it seemed to those watching, inevitably doomed to crash back down — Abijah’s two stout teams made the summit . . . a great shout went up. ‘Hosanna! Hosanna to the Lord!’”

In the middle of all of this, Lon Tuckett’s ox collapses and requires consecrating oil and a priesthood blessing, and in the bed of the same rickety outfit the animal was struggling to pull, Betsy gives birth to her first son, Millennium, with the help of Bathsheba, who swears (loudly) that the labor would have been easier if Lon hadn’t carried an axe in his wagon. These are rounded characters. Bathsheba may be dogmatic and superstitious, but she saves Betsy Tuckett’s life with her experience and skills. Abijah may be stern and overbearing, but he was “a man to be depended upon when you needed him, a man who got things done.”

In the meantime, we see and feel it all — the sage, the dust, the cactus needles, but also at sunset “the whispers of color still left in the sky” for the land is as much a character in this saga as  the people.  “[Clory] had never missed a twilight: down here, especially, they were always so lovely and lingering. The translucent sky deepening to green above the horizon was so clear that sometimes she imagined if she looked long enough she could surely see right through it and maybe surprise and angel.”

In the first two chapters of The Giant Joshua we are introduced to Whipple’s theme of the power of brotherhood — colonization, working together for a righteous cause, ‘The Grand Idea’, and the colorful characters who made it happen. We hear it in Lon Tuckett’s songs and in Abijah’s prayers. We are even given an interpretation for the novel’s title when Abijah explains to Clory, “That’s a Joshua Tree . . . just at the beginning of the desert [the San Bernardino saints] ran into whole forests of these trees. Only on the desert, they grow to be giants. Giant Joshuas. The Saints called ‘em that because their twisted branches made ‘em look like Joshua with his arms outstretched pointing the Israelites toward the Promised Land.”

But mostly, we feel the ‘Grand Idea’ in Clorinda MacIntyre’s excitement on the final page of Chapter Two, as she awaits morning and her new home. So exhilarating is Whipple’s narrative, and so honest, Clory becomes real to us, and we join with her in our own eagerness as we anticipate her story. 

Clory felt as if her heart would break with joy. Song spontaneously burst forth from all the weary caravan. 

“Come, come, ye Saints — no toil nor labor fear,

But with joy — wend your way!”


–Whipple explains her approach to portraying the pioneers in her introduction.

“Perhaps . . . it is natural for our generation to deify them. Perhaps because of the abuse they suffered . . . it is natural for us even now to carry a chip on our shoulder toward the world—to lack a sense of humor regarding those who could not have survived without humor. 

But I believe we detract from their achievement when we paint them with too white a brush. These people of whom I write are my people and I love them, but I believe that what they did becomes even greater when we face the fact that they were human beings by birth and only saints by adoption.” 

In an early draft, Whipple planned to open the novel at the Salt Lake City Council House, where the MacIntyre family is called by Brigham Young to settle St. George. It is before Clory, who had been like a daughter to Abijah and Bathsheba for years, is called by Brigham Young to marry Abijah. Instead, Whipple decided to open the novel surrounded by the landscape of southern Utah and allows the reader to gradually come to understand that this is a polygamous family in a Mormon caravan, heading to settle St. George in 1861. She seeded the information that would have appeared in the opening Salt Lake City section in flashbacks throughout the novel. 

–Whipple planned for Chapter Two’s ending, with the caravan’s spontaneous singing of Come, Come Ye Saints as they approach St. George, to be echoed at the end of the Joshua trilogy. Her plan was to set the final chapter at the funeral of Cory’s son Jim, who sacrificed his life for the benefit of his daughter who he named after his mother, Clorinda Agatha Lenzi MacIntyre (she goes by the name Lenzi). Lenzi returns to St. George to attend her father’s funeral after several years studying opera in the East and Europe, an echo of her grandmother’s love of singing. Jim was badly injured in the Spanish-American War, and Lenzi thinks as she flies over the Utah landscape that her father’s body in his last years reminded her of the Giant Joshua trees, “twisted but unconquered.” Although she had been estranged from the Church for a time, she decides to return to her community for good, and sings Come, Come Ye Saints at the funeral.

–Maurine Check-in: In July 1937, Maurine was 34-years old, and had come to the end of a series of unsuccessful attempts at teaching school. She had continued her life-long practice of creative writing, however and decided to attend the Rocky Mountain Writers Conference, in Boulder, Colorado. There she impressed the faculty, and her work was forwarded to Ferris Greenslet, the Literary Editor at Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston. In their subsequent correspondence, she mentioned her interest in writing a multi-generational story set in St. George, and Greenslet encouraged her to apply for a publisher’s fellowship by submitting a synopsis and sample chapter. Whipple met these requirements under difficult conditions. That autumn she was living in the uncomfortable north bedroom of her parents’ crowded house in St. George, with the noise of her father’s construction business just outside her window. 

In a 1971 interview she said, “I went through an awful lot just for a chance to apply for the fellowship. I used to teach tap-dancing after school was out and I’d do my research in the morning, and then I’d work at night and lots of times I’d work all night long. I discovered that the best stuff came to me when I was so exhausted I could no longer think logically and I’d go to bed. And right when I was dozing off, then the words would start coming. I never analyzed it, but I know now that it’s the subconscious that writes for you.” (Maryruth Bracy and Linda Lambert, “Maurine Whipple’s Story of The Giant Joshua,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 6 (Autumn-Winter 1971), p. 58.)

Maurine submitted a synopsis and the first two chapters to Greenslet on January 24, 1938.  She was awarded a writer’s fellowship, which included a book contract, on May 25. It would take her over two years to finish the novel. 


  1. Andrew H. says:

    Lynne Larson is one of the editors of A Craving for Beauty: The Lost Works of Maurine Whipple (BCC Press, forthcoming), along with Veda Hale and Andrew Hall. A long-time admirer of Maurine Whipple and The Giant Joshua, she turned her full attention to reading, writing, and promoting western literature and history after an award-winning career as an educator in Idaho. She has published several novels, short stories, articles, essays, and magazine columns of her own, but considers her contribution to A Craving for Beauty as perhaps her most important work. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University and has an M.A. degree in English from Idaho State University in Pocatello. She and her husband, Kent, are the parents of three children.

  2. Andrew H. says:

    Most of the major Mormon novels of the mid-century (sometimes called The Lost Generation) are about the pioneer generation. Few major/respected works of Mormon prose literature in recent decades have been about the pioneer generation, however. (Movies and plays still often are about the pioneers). Why do you think that is?

  3. .

    A publisher’s fellowship! That sounds neat.


    Anyway, to answer your question, Andrew, I think the pioneer story loomed so hugely it was difficult to see around it. What else COULD it mean to be a Mormon? And could we know before we therapied out those first couple generations? Clory’s still alive (metaphorically) as Maurine is writing about her.

  4. Andrew H. says:

    The publisher’s fellowship was nice, I’m sure. She also got small advances as she wrote, timed to her turning in chapters to the publisher. Veda Hale, her biographer, thinks that Ferris Greenslet, her publisher, was the perfect person to work with her, using a mix of praise and encouragement that she craved and “tough love” withholding advance money when she missed her deadlines. She underestimated how much those advances added up, and she received very little money after the book was published, even though it sold moderately well (great reviews, but not the bestseller they hoped it would be). She felt like she had been cheated, and broke with Houghton Mifflin by 1945. She signed a contract with Simon & Schuster for her sequel in 1945, but she didn’t have the same encouraging relationship with them, perhaps one of the reasons she didn’t finish the sequel.

    Also, Veda just told me that she doubts that picture we used in this post, from the Whipple archives, is Maurine. She thinks it might be her friend Lillian McQuarrie, who was the person who convinced Maurine to send in the applications that led to the publication of The Giant Joshua.

    We plan to hold a Zoom meeting about Maurine Whipple and her work sometime in September. Veda was very close to Maurine in her last years, interviewing her about her life and helping her to organize her papers. She will participate in the Zoom meeting and answer your questions about Maurine. I have some ideas of inviting other people who knew Maurine as well.

  5. keepapitchinin says:

    I’ve never read The Giant Joshua, although it’s been on my shelf for decades. I have strong prejudices against Maurine Whipple based on comments made by my mother many, many years ago.

    But I’ve begun reading it now … and dang, the woman could write!

  6. Andrew H. says:

    People who had real life interactions with Maurine were often the ones who disliked her the most and refused to read her books, I’m going to talk more about Maurine’s difficult personality and bad choices in a future post. Juanita Brooks, who had a close but troubled relationship with Maurine in the late 1930s and 1940s, was a bit intimidated by her skill at writing in the years before Juanita had published significant work. She said to Dale Morgan on June 5, 1942, “I know I cannot write in the same style that ‘Rene does any more than a sparrow can sign like a canary, but I have assumed that the type of thing I can do is still worth doing.”

  7. Lynne Larson says:

    For various reasons and for countless years, many LDS readers have carried a negative bias towards Maurine Whipple. Unfortunately, this attitude, often fostered by falsehood and prejudice, has prevented a great novel from being more universally admired and appreciated. With the accompanying notes and supplementary material on this site, it is our hope that Whipple’s masterpiece, The Giant Joshua, will now be read or re-read in a new light, and that Whipple can be judged simply on the merits of her remarkable literary achievement, her gift to Mormon letters, and to southern Utah.

  8. I loaned a copy of “Pride &Prejudice” to a friend (young woman) who’d never read any Austen, and as a result of our discussions, found myself suffering a thirst for the pleasure of a smart woman’s writing. Ardis’ comment inspires me to look at this untapped (by me) source of refreshment. Thanks for highlighting her book with such interesting background.

  9. The Clerkess says:

    I borrowed ‘The Giant Joshua’ and read it at the start of Lockdown so I’m delighted to see you’re book-clubbing it here.
    Oh mummy daddy! So much of it’s a shocker and I found myself sucked in right from the start. The characters are well drawn and in the first couple of chapters, I couldn’t stand Bathsheba (but felt sorry for her), felt fond of the poor soul, Willie, and was horrified at the fate of the heroine, Clorinda. Her foster dad Abijah becomes her husband and he bemoans the fact that “it was enough to have to raise her without having to marry her.” But then goes on to get a wee grip in the loins when he thinks of her black locks and soft white neck. Noooooo!! Sorry, it’s just too creepy, but of course that didn’t keep me from turning the next page! Haha!
    I’ve always known about polygamy, sort of and I’ve even visited Southern Utah a few times, but this story brought it all to life, vivid, compelling and awful.
    I kept thinking throughout the story, why oh why did any of these poor pioneers leave their homes in Britain/Europe/Scandinavia? I suppose they thought things would be better on the other side of the pond. Unfortunately, conditions seem to have been grim wherever you were in 1800s; freezing in the cold or baking in the heat, lacking good water supply, often hungry and working long, long hours. “Here’s to them, wha’s like them, damn few, and they’re a’ deid.”

  10. Andrew H. says:

    The relatively open (but not explicit) depiction of sexuality is a remarkable feature of The Giant Joshua, and is certainly one of the reasons that many Mormons reacted negatively to it. Monday’s post, on Chapters Three and Four, we will be focusing on that. Chapter Four is where Abijah initiates a sexual relationship with his new 16-year old wife, in a scene that certainly reads like marital rape. Whipple gives Abijah several positive qualities, but his attitudes towards women and the way he treats his wives is one of the hardest things about reading the novel, and is at the center of its tragic elements.
    And an older man marrying a 16-year who had been like a foster daughter? It may seem like an extreme case, but it was based directly on the true story of James and Jane Bleak. Maurine knew and thanked Jane in the book acknowledgements, and James’ “Annals of the Southern Mission” is one of the key sources for the book. We’ll be saying more about them later.
    I think Whipple was also aware of the question of why the pioneers would agree to put themselves in these terrible conditions, and she tried to answer that with the campfire scene in Chapter Three, where Erastus Snow leads the group in remembering the trials and blessings they had gone through together, and how they have welded them into a community.

  11. The Clerkess says:

    Thanks, Andrew H., for the additional information on the story and characters being based on actual incidents and people. I was wondering about that as I read and was sure it must be the case. I’m not picking on the Mormons for my horror at their marital goings-on with regard to difference in age, as I know from my own family history that it was common for older men to marry young girls. In the Scottish island communities, boys often went to sea and wouldn’t take a wife till they were settled and in their 40s. And the wives were most often young girls in their teens or twenties – eeek! It’s not so much the age gap that’s weird but the fact that the father-daughter relationship changes to husband-wife in this case. What were they thinking?!?! I suppose that’s what is fascinating when reading about life in the past.

  12. The Clerkess says:

    Oh, and sorry if my remarks about older men and younger women marrying sound at all disparaging. I don’t want to cause any offence to anyone, so please accept my apologies if that’s the case. My grandpa was 10 years older than my granny and they were a love match if ever there was one – best couple ever!

  13. I’m thoroughly enjoying the book and am so very glad you’re doing this! Thank you!
    Also … My family has an ancestor who reluctantly married his stepdaughter at the direction of some apostle whose name escapes me at the moment. Too tired to go look it up. The family story is that he was initially reluctant but agreed and it ended up being a blessing. But I’ve wondered if there was more to the rosy family story. Now I wonder if this was a fairly common and convenient (and creepy??) way to add another wife to the tribe.

  14. Andrew H. says:

    About marrying step-daughters and others with existing close connections, I don’t know the answer.
    On girls marrying at a young age, here is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females.
    “Because Utah was growing by natural increase as well as migration, the number of persons at lower levels of the age pyramid exceeded those above, allowing men to choose plural wives form among women much younger than themselves. Although polygamy ensured that virtually every woman in the territory married, it also created competition in the marriage market, guaranteeing that women married at younger and younger ages. By 1860, the mean age at marriage in one Utah town had fallen to sixteen years for both monogamous and polygamous brides. It is important to note, however, that younger wives usually lived with their plural families for a time before having children, their husbands perhaps delaying conjugal relations . . . [Emma Smith, who married Wilford Woodruff when she was 15, had her] first child born more than three years later, when she was well past nineteen.” (p. 274-275)

    Maurine Whipple based Clory’s young age and recent foster-child relationship with her new husband on the experiences of Jane Thompson Bleak, a St. George pioneer who Maurine knew. Jane and her parents lived in Providence, Rhode Island, but Jane was anxious to go to Utah when she was fifteen (1861). They decided she could go with a company and after she arrived in Utah she could live with the Thompsons’ good friends, the Bleaks. The rest of the story comes from a history of Jane T. Bleak.

    “But just six weeks after their arrival in Salt Lake City, came the call for Pioneers to make the treck (sic) to Dixie. The Bleaks were responsible Jane whose parents had entrusted her to them, and there was not time to get further permission to take her with them to St. George nor did they feel that they could leave her in Salt Lake City to make her own way. Under these unusual circumstances President Brigham Young advised James G. Bleak to take this young girl as his polygamous wife, and though she at first opposed the idea, when she herself talked with Brigham Young and learned from him the wisdom of his advice, she abided by it and through the years found the complete fulfillment of President Young’s promise that blessings would follow her in this Union and she should never find cause to regret, although she shrank at first from such a responsibility, and could not understand how his two wives could be entirely in accord with the procedure. She was married in the Endowment House October 26, 1861 and on November 1st they began the journey to Dixie.” (Mabel Jarvis, “Jane Thompson Bleak: Aged Pioneer Woman Recounts Life’s Events” Jane married James when Jane was 15 years and 11 months old. She had her first child sixteen months later. Unlike Clory and Abijah, James and Jane had what appears to have been a very happy marriage.

  15. Thank for the additional context, Andrew H. What strange and fascinating times. This reminds me of the profile of Joseph F Smith published years ago in BYU Studies which included great detail on his mother’s initial personal revulsion when faced with a polygamous proposal and her process of coming around to accept it. I’m so glad we have some record of these women’s thoughts and feelings.

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