The Giant Joshua — Chapters Nine and Ten

By Lynne Larson

“That was it, she thought, that which would sustain her . . . the Light was still hers, growing brighter as one gained wisdom . . . The wave of joy broke, and the dazzling spray flooded her with love, faith, divine goodness.”

It is soul-piercing grief that haunts these hundred pages – Chapters Nine and Ten – and unfathomable loss of her beloved Freeborn and her three children that points Clory toward the maturity of spirit required to recognize the “Light” of the above quotation and survive her circumstances. The ultimate victory will be hard-won.

Chapters Nine and Ten remind us vividly that Clory’s feelings for Free, and his for her, have never faded. In spite of her marriage to his father, in spite of her motherhood and her commitment to plurality, she has not forgotten the boy her own age, whom she has always loved. Living in the same family, they have playfully interacted from time to time and even shared an occasional intimate blush. But generally, they have kept a physical distance, dutifully suppressing deep emotions, or denying them. However, as Free leaves on a militia expedition that may cost him his life, and stops to bid Clory a last goodbye, neither of them can resist the moment. “And when Free came she . . . let herself be swept up in his arms and kissed without preamble.”

“‘You ought to have known there ain’t anybody else for me,” [Free tells Clory] “—-ever’.”

So strong are Free’s emotions, even Abijah notes his son’s enthusiastic willingness to risk his life to hunt the stolen sheep and bring back the herd, because the rescue will not only eventually mean profits for the town, it will mean milk for Clory’s baby. When Free is killed on the expedition, Abijah blames his own young wife. After all, he can’t fault his beloved son. It is easier to listen to false rumors and believe that Clory must have seduced Free, or at least gone out of her way to remain alluring to him or respond with warmth to his flirtations. She has therefore indirectly caused his death! Dark clouds descend on Abijah over this conviction, and he freezes Clory out of his life.

As for Clory, she is devastated on all accounts. Physically, she suffers a miscarriage. Emotionally, her grief is coupled with guilt. She has loved Free since childhood, “and she had not been able to stop loving him, no matter how hard she tried . . . They said his death was a punishment for going against counsel, but if anyone had gone against counsel it was she. He was not to blame. Oh, no! It was all her fault from the beginning . . .” She responds to Abijah’s frost with bitterness of her own. Seeing Abijah’s garments flapping on the clothesline, she sees them “like the caricature of a man, like Abijah deflated of vanity.”

We as readers may ponder these seminal chapters with a variety of emotions, opinions, and impressions. I have heard some critics condemn the entire novel because of Clory’s relationship with Free, calling it “stereotypical” to portray a young plural wife in love with her husband’s son. Others have pointed to Whipple’s vivid description of Clory’s youthful passion as “leaning towards the lurid” or they have chastened Whipple for turning the novel into a “soap opera” rather than a faith-promoting pioneer story. Before casting ourselves with that group, I would hope readers might consider Whipple’s theme, emphasis, and artistry in Chapters Nine and Ten.  Stories become “lurid” when they emphasize the vulgar for the sake of the obscene. Clory’s youthful passion is portrayed as natural and God-given. No “lurid” writer ever described it as Whipple does:

“A shiver of terror pierced her heart like an icicle. She had not meant to love him, but they had been in the clutch of something bigger than themselves . . . Desire shuddered a remembered spasm along her nerves. Before she was born it must have been conceived, that hunger, as patient as the red rocks, waiting for the pattern of her life to wheel its preordained cycle . . . It seemed to her that all the old spoken words still trembled there—would they tremble there even when she was old, alternately bathing her in their beauty and drowning her again and again in that savage, recurrent loneliness . . . you can never see him again, it mocked, oh, you can never see him again! When she had hands as withered and mottled as the claw of a hen . . . would the world still throb with this passionate longing?”

Lurid? Simple soap opera? I daresay, Whipple’s genius makes these chapters much, much more.

Great characters in great novels grow and change as the pages turn, and the pain of Free’s death not only matures Clory, it teaches her (and us) one of Whipple’s themes: Experience, even sad experience, brings wisdom. On Sugar Loaf she has a spiritual epiphany with the “Light” (quoted at the top of the post), and determines, “Sorrow might come again, but it would find a tougher surface.”

And, of course, sorrow will come again, in the worst of ways. Before Chapter Ten ends, Clory will lose all of her children to a dreaded canker plague, including her beloved Kissy who was more precious to her than life itself. But before that happens, she and Abijah reconcile, and she comes to see him as a true man of God with the power of the priesthood, as he places his hands on little Kissy’s head to save her after a wagon accident. Clory recognizes then that she can love and admire Abijah, perhaps not with the youthful passion she had for Free, but because of a stronger, more important bond.

It is in these pages, too, that Whipple overlays all the suffering of her pioneers with her “Grand Idea” in a very direct discussion between David Wight and his hired man, the gentile Mr. Nelson. “Togetherness.” Nelson roars, “You were persecuted because you had togetherness, but it also gave you strength. Togetherness! The ability to sacrifice yourself for the Common Good — the Common Good . . . for something greater than self . . . Brotherhood. It’s the noblest concept in human experience!”

Clory has suffered mightily for the “Grand Idea” by the end of Chapter Ten, but she has also seen what faith, conviction, brotherhood, and togetherness can do. And we, with her, have begun to see the power of Maurine Whipple’s theme.

Discussion questions:

1. How do you feel about Clory’s relationship with Free? Do you see it as an attempt to add a more appealing romance to her novel? Or is it an effective counterbalance to Clory’s relationship with Abijah?

2.  Were Clory’s terrible losses in these chapters excessive? Why do you think Whipple was so hard on her main character?

3.  What is the gentile Mr. Nelson’s role? Is Whipple’s theme of the ‘Grand Idea’ clear to you, or do you find the idea vague and/or anachronistic for the 1860s setting?

Historical notes, by Andrew Hall

Maurine check-in:

Chapters Nine and Ten were written in January-March 1940, some of it while Maurine was staying at Joseph and Tina Walker’s house in Los Angeles and at their date ranch in Cathedral City, California. Joseph Walker was a St. George native, the son of Charles Lowell Walker, a St. George pioneer. Charles Lowell Walker was a model for the character of David Wight. Charles Lowell Walker, like David Wight, wrote poems and songs (including the hymn “Dearest Children, God is Near You”), participated in theater productions, and was one of the founders of St. George’s first newspaper. His son, Joseph Walker, was 62 in 1940, and a doctor of urology. He likewise was the model for Frank Wight, David and Pal’s son, and one of the main characters in the unfinished sequel, Cleave the Wood. Joseph and Tina Walker were impressed by Maurine’s early drafts of The Giant Joshua and became active supporters. Maurine often stayed with them over the next ten years, convalescing from her various illnesses, and they engaged a lively correspondence. Walker was a strong cultural Mormon, with great interest and pride in his people’s history, but not a believer in the current Church leadership—not unlike Maurine.

Veda Hale, Maurine’s biographer, wrote, “In addition to supplying needed medical assistance and emotional support, he was a gold mine of anecdotes, his tidbits, and human insights, which he passed along in well-written letters . . . The Walkers’ unstinting affection, their unreserved admiration of her writing ability, and their open pride in her achievement was balm to the bruises of indifference that Maurine said—probably with exaggeration—characterized the reactions of the people in St. George . . . They provided sympathetic and sophisticated awareness from people who were not only her own, but who were also at home in the broader world she longed to enter. Walker’s educated, good-humored encouragement, his willingness to share his own experience and observations, his open admiration of Maurine’s writing ability, and his concern for her health, combined with [editor Ferris] Greenslet’s editorial skills and enthusiasm, created a delicately balanced environment. Together they gave Maurine the kind of support that had not existed earlier and which never existed again.”[1]

Ferris Greenslet wrote to Maurine in April 1940, “If you keep on at that pace, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be the Pulitzer winner, yourself, of 1940 . . .  With each new chapter I think afresh how much better this is than Vardis Fisher [the author of Children of God (1939)].”[2]

Historical inspirations

The doctor Stiddy Weeks is based on the frontier herbalist doctor Priddy Meeks. Maurine portrayed Brigham Young the St. George religious leadership as disregarding Stiddy Weeks’ ability, as they thought the people should trust in priesthood blessings and the herbal remedies of chosen midwives over professional doctors. Priddy Meeks, however, was a Thompsonian herbalist, whose ideas about treating sickness were largely in line with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, both of whom he knew well. Meeks lived in Parowan, then in Harrisburg, northwest of St. George, before moving to the Long Valley region in 1864. Priddy Meek’s son Athe Meeks lived in St. George in the 1930s-1950s, and so Maurine probably knew him. Whipple used Priddy as a character in her 1943 short story, “They Did Go Forth”, about an Orderville (Long Valley) woman with a sick child who is visited by one of the Three Nephites. “They Did Go Forth” and other gems will be published in A Craving For Beauty: The Lost Works of Maurine Whipple, forthcoming from BCC Press.

The Navajo attack on the cattle ranch at Pipe Spring, which results in Freeborn’s death, is based on a raid by Native Americans on the Whitmore Ranch in Pipe Springs, on the Arizona Strip, during the Black Hawk War. James Whitmore had established the ranch in 1863, and many of the St. George residents left their cattle and sheep to graze there under his protection. On January 8, 1866, a group of Native Americans stole some of the cattle. Whitmore and Robert McIntire tried to recover the stock. When they did not return, Whitmore’s 11-year old son set out on foot to summon aid. A posse found the two men’s bodies, riddled with arrows, buried under the snow some days later. The posse found and killed eleven Paiutes some days later, although the Paiutes claimed that it was Navajos, rather than them, that killed the two men.[3] Free’s death may also have been inspired by the Native American killing of Elijah Averett, a young man from Washington, Utah, during a reconnoitering and exploring expedition in August 1866.

“Black Canker,” the plague which killed Clory’s three children, as well as many of the children of the community, was identified by Maurine as the same illness which afflicted the Saints at Winter Quarters. For a scientific explanation of these kinds of ailments, here is an excerpt from the article “Medical Terms Used by Saints in Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, 1839–48”.[4]

“Canker: Refers to an ulceration, usually in the mouth. In the presence of malnutrition, debilitation, or immune deficiency, it may spread and cause tissue destruction, gangrene, and an agonizing death. Fortunately, the amount of pain experienced by patients with fatal canker is relatively small. In pioneer times the gangrene often turned tissues black, in which instance the disease was called ‘black canker.’ Without antibiotics or adequate nutrition, progressive canker or cancrum oris was fatal in about 95 percent of cases, usually within one to three weeks of its recognition. Today this condition still occurs in countries where there is severe poverty and malnutrition. Several diseases which weaken the immune system can add to the effects of malnutrition and debilitation, increasing the risk of progressive canker. These include measles, gastroenteritis, scurvy, AIDS, and, in the case of children, an initial or primary herpes virus infection in the mouth . . . Any serious ongoing disease probably contributed to the risk of developing lethal canker in subjects with severe malnutrition. Canker deaths did, and still do, occur predominantly in young children. The years of maximal susceptibility (ages one to seven) are years when the immune system is not yet fully mature and passive protection from mother’s breast milk is waning or has gone . . . Early Saints from England probably introduced the terms ‘canker’ and ‘black canker’ to other pioneers in describing this fatal condition.” 

Summers in St. George in the 1860s often saw deaths of children and pestilences of flies, as Maurine described. The Charles Lowell Walker diary includes these entries:

July 28, 1867. “There is considerable sickness this summer. 7 children have died in about 3 weeks.”

Sept. 22, 1867. “August has in this place been a very sickly month. Many children have died and there has been great lamentation and weeping . . . All my children has been very sick and my little daughter Agatha was not expected to live, but by the help of God and faith of the Saints she recovered in this trial.”

May 26, 1869. “At this time there is considerable sickness in this place among the little children and quite a number have died and many mothers have been made to mourn the loss of their darlings.”

An editors’ footnote to one of these entries stated: “‘Summer Complaint’ was the great offender, a dysentery caused by milk that was contaminated by the swarms of houseflies.”[5]

[1] Veda Tebbs Hale. “Swell Suffering”: A biography of Maurine Whipple. Greg Kofford Books, 2012, p. 162-163.

[2] Hale, p. 164.


[4] Douglas C. Heiner, Evan L. Ivie, and Teresa Lovell Whitehead, “Medical Terms Used by Saints in Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, 1839–48”, by Religious Educator (10:3), 2009.

[5]A. Karl Larson and Katherine Miles Larson, editors. The Diary of Charles Lowell Walker. Utah State University Press, 1980, p. 284.


  1. keepapitchinin says:

    I’d like to respond to the question of the role of Mr. Nelson, the gentile (at least one aspect of his role), and do it in a way that avoids spoilers in hopes of teasing other BCC participants to read at least part of The Giant Joshua

    It’s no secret by now, I suppose, that I do not at all like the way Maurine Whipple portrays Mormons and Mormonism. Mr. Nelson’s presence gives more excuses for making us look foolish, our women abused, and religion as entirely lacking any whiff of divinity, even if it can be said to result in some practical good. There is, for instance, that awful thing Pal says to Mr. Nelson about a Mormon woman’s need for understanding (or not) her religion. There is also the absurd reductionism of Mormonism to the single word that David selects in response to Mr. Nelson’s insistence.

    On the other hand, we can seer a little of Mormonism through the eyes of Mr. Nelson, an outsider, the only one we see interacting to any extent with the Mormons of the Dixie Mission. He spends enough time there, working and socializing with the people, and his response to them is positive (or at least neutral, but neutral feels positive after the murderous rejection of the rest of the world, constantly rehearsed by the characters). So, showing someone who doesn’t hate us after he gets to know us feels like a plus, and uncharacteristic for the novel.

    Also, when Mr. Nelson leaves, before his identity and purpose are known, David tries to load him up with supplies, more than he has earned, presumably, to be sure he travels in safety and without hunger. That takes up barely a line of text and could be easily missed, but it does suggest that if Mormonism were to be reduced to the single word Mr. Nelson wants it reduced to, at least the people of St. George are sincere in practicing that word. I’ll take that as a win, against the rest of the text with its mockery and unrelieved contempt for Mormonism.

  2. Ardis, Given your response to Whipple’s treatment of Mormons and Mormonism, and some of what I’ve read in these posts, (yes, Whipple’s writing is more than “lurid,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t include lurid), I wonder why you would want to tease “other BCC participants to read at least part of The Giant Joshua.”
    She’s clearly a good writer. So what? There are also others and limited time. And I’ve already been exposed to a number of to-me weird and even wrong-headed views of parts of Mormonism including one my grandfather grew up with in Cache Valley. (Late 19th/early 20th century — never mind the appalling stuff he once thought was Church doctrine.)

  3. keepapitchinin says:

    Wondering, you’re interested enough, one way or another, to read and respond to comments — if time is so limited and there is no value in The Giant Joshua, why do that? If you can answer that to yourself, you might understand why I think it’s worth while for BCC readers to at least sample the book. Maybe; you might not understand, too.

    As a blogger who has often put enormous amounts of time and thought into posts that didn’t draw an audience despite their significance, I want to support Lynne and Andrew. If I can respond with a positive point to the bloggers or to someone who is actually reading the novel, I will. It’s a significant book, and one I might enjoy if it were about any group except one I know as well as late 19th century Mormons.

    I suspect my list of factual errors and anachronisms is somewhat lengthier than most (my ego is on display; so be it). I suspect that every nasty, petty, mean-spirited, stupid, selfish character in the book has a real life counterpart — they certainly read like real people to me. My objections are not that Maurine Whipple mocks Mormon religious faith by having characters bear testimony to the weirdest things we have all heard from the weirdest people in our wards; it is that she never balances that with any character, from Brigham Young down to the humblest Dixieite, who can bear even the briefest line of testimony that a believing Mormon of today could say fairly represents his/her faith. My objections are not that Maurine Whipple exposes the vast range of reasons why women might have been miserable in 19th century Mormonism; it is that she never balances that with any marriage that is happy (I find the marriage of David, Pal and Lucy to be a ludicrous exaggeration, the least believable of any of Maurine Whipple’s characters, and reject that as a balancing example). How could men do that to wives? How could women submit? If Maurine Whipple’s characters represent the full range of 19th century Mormon pioneers, than Mormonism was a monstrosity that should have been drowned at birth. It should be obvious that I don’t feel that way about Mormonism, so I reject The Giant Joshua as anything like a fair representation.

    But, frankly, I do not find anything “lurid” in the book. I just don’t. I dunno, maybe because i’ve read the Old Testament? In any case, even when Abijah rapes Clory, and especially when Free and Clory say goodbye, the writing doesn’t linger over images, doesn’t try in the slightest to provoke a sensuous response in the reader, which would certainly be part of my definition of “lurid.” If it’s possible to write a rape scene chastely, Maurine Whipple did it.

    The Giant Joshua is a significant book because of the role it has played in our literary history, if not solely for the merits of the book. I don’t like it — at all — but at least I know why I don’t like it now that I’ve read it more closely than I read most books. I can also recognize why other people do like it. Maurine Whipple is more than merely “a good writer.”

  4. keepapitchinin says:

    Maybe I should have pointed to the marriage of Lars and his Yulia as a happy one, but for its own obvious reasons it is hardly a fair model for Mormon marriage.

  5. Ardis, Thanks for the response. I’m not sure I understand your first responding paragraph, but the rest I do and value. BTW, not to exclude being interested in the subject matter of some bloggernacle posts, one of the reasons I skim or read some posts and comments is that I am interested in trying to understand the variety of people who post them. They are a part of the world I live in. It seems Whipple’s characters are not. Also, it takes much less time and can be done in much smaller increments of time than a serious reading of a lengthy, serious novel.
    No one can reasonably read my inquiry to imply that I think The Giant Joshua has no value — only that I question whether reading it has enough value to me relative to the other books in my yet-to-be-read stack, that I should bump it up the list. Thanks again. .

  6. keepapitchinin says:

    Wondering, that first paragraph is a leftover from my first drafted response, which wasn’t charitable or necessary. I’m glad I thought better of it, and should have dumped the first paragraph, too. Too often I’m too impatient.

    My reason for reading this as closely as I did was unique. I don’t have the right to say more right now, but there will be an explanation soon and you’ll probably recognize it. Absent that reason, I’m not sure I would have read it all — like you I have plenty in my to-be-read pile, and I got the gist of The Giant Joshua early on. The ending, though, was important enough to evaluating the book that I’m glad I didn’t miss it, even though I did not like it.

    Anyway, thanks for the exchange!

  7. Wondering,
    You asked about the value of the book, whether it is worth reading. While I am second to none in my estimation of Ardis and her judgement, I do differ with her on this. I expressed myself in the earlier blog posts, so here are a few other voices that I hope might help convince you to bump it up in your to-read pile.

    Terryl L. Givens: “No one has succeeded better than Whipple at capturing the recurrent Mormon paradox: the independence and loneliness of an exiled people . . . making it perhaps the fullest cultural expression of the Mormon experience.” (People of Paradox, p. 289.)

    Michael Austin, one of the BCC permabloggers, in a 1996 essay, “Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua and my conversion to Mormon literature”.
    “The experiences I had when I read The Giant Joshua were only slightly less profound than the experiences I had during my first sustained encounter with the Book of Mormon: I avoided them both as long as I could, started them both reluctantly, entertained them both skeptically, and completed them both enthusiastically; by the end of both books I knew that I had read something that would change my life forever. In the case of the Book of Mormon, my conversion resulted in my commitment to the gospel. In the case of The Giant Joshua, my conversion resulted in a real tangible belief that Mormon literature was a valuable part of my heritage that was every bit as worth my professional attention as anything else I had studied as a graduate student. . . There are, I am sure, some literary and artistic flaws in The Giant Joshua; however, I don’t have the foggiest idea what they may be. I have read literary critics describe it as ‘an imperfect masterpiece’ or a ‘flawed-classic,’ and I am willing to accept that this is the prevailing opinion among the learned. I, on the other hand, think that the book is nothing less than a miracle–and a miracle that did what good miracles always do: changed my life for the better.” (March 1996, AML-list)

    Curt Bench, “Fifty Important Mormon Books” Sunstone, October 1990
    Curt, the proprietor of Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City, is a respected Mormon books professional. He made his list of 50 books based on his own assessment and the input of 21 leading scholars of Mormon history and literature. He included “The Giant Joshua” among the five books in his “literature” category. Quoting the historian Dale Morgan, he wrote “The Giant Joshua ‘has claims to be considered the best Mormon novel so far published.’ Morgan calls it ‘a law unto itself’ and says the book ‘overflows with life’ and is ‘richly rewarding.’ Later critics tend to agree with Morgan. In fact, this seems to be the unanimous choice of all I asked to name the best Mormon novel.”

    Click to access 079-54-58.pdf

    Like all art, your milage may vary, but I hope you give it a chance.

  8. keepapitchinin says:

    Odd. I thought I was the one who said there *was* value in reading The Giant Joshua, despite its one-sided skewering of Mormon faith, and the one encouraging other BCC readers to dip in by providing teasers rather than spoilers in my comment. I also said it was “significant for the role it has played in our literary history,” pretty much what Givens, Austin, and Bench say in your quotations. None of those quotations has a word about its misrepresentation of faith, which is where my objections lie. So where do we differ, Andrew? (I don’t need a response; I merely want to say AGAIN, as I have said to you several times, publicly and privately, that I recognize why literary folk find TGJ attractive. For me, though, those attractive features are not the sole criteria for judging whether or not *I* like the book. I will have nothing more to say in this series of posts.)

  9. Ardis,
    Sorry, those quotes were for Wondering, who seemed to want a general reason to read the novel, rather than towards your experience with the novel, or your concerns about Maurine’s misrepresentations of faith and the pioneer experience.

    Your experience with the novel, and your criteria at judging it, are totally valid. I’ll try to encourage someone to read a book I like, but I would not deny someone’s experience once they have read it. So I am not trying to convince you that your points are wrong. I’ll just give you my take on those issues, for what it is worth.

    I agree Whipple’s representation of religiosity is a weak point. She seemed to be more interested in the pioneer struggles and personalities than the faith that fueled them. Clory has experiences with the “light” and a “great smile” that seem more romantic/mystic than mainstream LDS. I think Maurine did not connect with traditional Mormon expressions of testimony she grew up with and was searching for an alternative language to express spirituality. While Clory’s experiences are far from representative, there are a lot of different Mormon experiences, and I can see her world view as in the realm of possibility.

    I appreciate your appreciation of the book’s value and Maurine’s literary skill, and your concerns about misrepresentation. I usually don’t like it when I see Mormons misrepresented in fiction, but I don’t feel the kind of misrepresentation and mocking of Mormons that you have seen in the novel. I think Clory is a strong, interesting character, who deals with her own mixture of testimony and doubt, and tries to make the best of a difficult situation. I think Maurine creates the other characters, including Brigham Young, with negative and positive attributes that feels plausible to me. I see more gentle humor than mocking. Even Bathsheba and Abijah, the most deplorable major characters, are portrayed with full inner lives, that I believe. I don’t think they represent the “full range of 19th century Mormon pioneers”, but I don’t expect any novel to do that, even an epic novel like this.

    Well, let’s not get stuck on one novel. Do you have any favorite novels about 19th century Mormons?

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