The Giant Joshua – Chapters 13 and 14: Temple Celebrations and Private Despair

By Lynne Larson

[See below for the announcement of a Zoom event on October 11 where we will discuss Maurine Whipple and The Giant Joshua, featuring several people who knew Maurine, including Carol Lynn Pearson.]

 “The building arose from the barren ground like a great white wedding cake. It was eighty-four feet high to the top of the parapet, battlemented like an old castle, and there was a hundred-and-thirty-five-foot tower on top of that . . . Long before the ceremonies were to start, a vast throng of people wandered around the block, squinted upward from the roadway, felt of the solid rock walls with their hands as if to bolster the evidence of their eyes. A temple that would cost a million dollars. The world would have said it couldn’t be done, and so they did it.”

Chapter Thirteen of The Giant Joshua contains one of the novel’s most stirring scenes, a portrait of the aging Brigham Young as he dedicates the temple which the Dixie Saints have worked so hard to build. It is April 1877, and the pioneer leader, with but four more months to live, has traveled to St. George to perform the ordinance. It is the first temple completed in Utah, which Brigham has yearned to see before his death. Maurine Whipple’s description of the cheering multitudes, of their breathless anticipation, of their tears at the prophet’s words, and of the man himself – “His eyes glinted beneath his brows, his white beard trembled . . . the skin of his cheeks stretched tightly over his bones”—is a remarkable gift to Mormon letters, to Mormon heritage, and to southern Utah.

“‘There are those now living who will see this valley thickly populated from ridge to ridge and from the red hill to the river.’

‘I see spires pointing heavenward and the Temple standing in the center of the valley, Utah’s Dixie at the head of the State instead of at the foot . . .’

‘I tell you we have no business here other than to build up and establish the Zion of our Lord, who holds the hearts of the living in His hands and turns them as the rivers are turned.’ 

“In his earnestness he smote the pulpit with his cane until the room rang. He looked down at the marks on the polished wood. ‘You can putty this up, smooth it over, paint it over, or leave it here as a testimony.’”

The marks were left in the pulpit and remain there today. Brigham Young’s words still ring as well. “Do not betray your heritage,” he told the people. “There are some here who will bring it glory . . . but to all of you I would say, ‘Love God and each other . . . I calculate to die in the harness.’”

Perhaps Maurine herself saw her literature as an answer to Brigham Young’s admonition to future generations to bring glory to their heritage. Whipple, through her artistry, did it with her pen. She ends the chapter this way, 

“A strange stillness fell upon the sober old ones with their burdens of floods and governments and polygamy, upon the laughing young ones with their heads full of kisses and the ancient mystery of lying together. Wonder touched their faces as the hushed lines parted to let Brother Brigham’s chair go through. More than a tired old man had passed. An epoch had passed.”

In Chapter Fourteen, the Dixie Saints are tested by prosperity as the mines at Silver Reef offer a period of financial relief and even riches to those willing to invest in the strike. The silver boom also draws many of the town’s young men toward the higher paying jobs of the mining industry, and the dubious life awaiting them is a source of constant worry for Apostle Erastus Snow, and for Abijah MacIntyre, who is now president of the Temple.

A greater conflict for Clory in this chapter, however, is Abijah’s dark attitude toward his own children, especially his son Jimmie, who has always sensed his mother’s unhappiness and resented his father’s treatment of her. ‘Sheba, jealous of Clory’s young children, goads them into mischief, and then demands Abijah punish them. This, together with Abijah’s long absences because of his duties at the Temple, has left Clory feeling angry, lonely, and neglected. She thinks that the children might do better without Abijah if it meant they would also be free of ‘Sheba. And there are also hints that the bachelor Gottleib Uttley, who shows Clory his fine farm and is continuously solicitous of her, might be an option for her as well.

Then, too, there is Clory’s own health – her hands ruined from tanning the leather for the gloves she proudly makes – her grasp at independence. Abijah is fine with Clory losing that particular urge. But when the doctor tells Clory she has kidney trouble from bad water and shouldn’t have any more children, her husband is less sympathetic. “‘But Clor-rinda,’ he burred. ‘All those waiting tabernacles!’”

All these things, and many more (including a failed attempt to live the United Order), combine to push Clory to the edge. She returns home from her visit to Gottleib ready to tell Abijah that she is leaving, when word comes from Salt Lake City of Brother Brigham’s death. Perhaps Whipple, with her critical timing, is offering us a way to conclude our discussion of these chapters, reiterating the love the people had for their Prophet and power he had upon them.

“‘Oh, Abijah,’ she cried, blind to his ravaged face, the tears trickling into his beard. ‘I’ve come to tell you—–’

‘Clor-rinda!’ His voice was lost and helpless. ‘Brother Brigham is dead!’

He needed her. She went without a word.”

Historical notes, by Andrew Hall

Maurine Check-in

Maurine was in a productive phase in the Spring and Summer of 1940, determined to finish the novel by July, and producing a chapter every three weeks. A friend of hers, seeing her suffering in the oven-hot room of her parents’ St. George house, offered here the use of a hunting cabin on Beaver Mountain, a much cooler place at elevation 7500 feet. There she wrote Chapters 13 and 14 in May and June. She told Veda Hale about her time in the cabin, “When I became too groggy to focus, I would go outside and sit in the ditch. After a few days, my mother joined me, both to look after me and to get away from Papa. Mama fixed the meals, used cheese cloth to improvise a screen against insects, and swatted flies . . .  And then Papa came. I remember how she looked when she saw him across the clearing and said she feared she’d have to go back with him. It was such a sad resignation. Oh, how I wished she would stand up to him.” Perhaps this incident inspired Maurine’s depiction of Clory pondering, and ultimately failing, to leave Abijah.

Maurine’s focus and detachment

May and June 1940 were the months of the Nazi invasion of France and the Low Countries, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the surrender of France. In August Maurine visited her friends Joseph and Tina Walker in California, and Joseph (who also came from St. George) later commented to Maurine in a letter about how her immersion in the lives of the 19th century pioneers caused her to hardly notice the outside world. Joseph, a doctor, could certainly turn a phrase himself.

 “You were the most refreshing visitation that ever came to bless a few days for us. You see, we are living in very serious and very tragic times. Great tongues of flame lick their consuming way across the world, leaping oceans, mountains, and burning their way into the homes of the most humble, nor stopping at some sacred spot where stands the statue of Milton. Change vast and profound and with it the ever present and frightening element of surprise whips the human mind into world-wide jitters. All, all of the old substantialities are questioned and redefined; all of the ancient and sacred slogans are being either brushed aside or redefined . . .  Democracy is questioned and spit upon; gone from all the public buildings in France is the ancient and stabilizing slogan, ‘Liberty, Fraternity, Equality’; while throughout the U.S. men hesitate to longer intone, ‘by the people, for the people and of the people.’ . . . Books flood the market and each one begs harder or threatens in more direful prophesies as each tries to ensnare the jittery mind of men. A vast, world-wide uncertainty luridly lighted by the flames of hate make of the world one gigantic witches’ cauldron . . .

“The outstanding impression you made upon me during the delightful days you lingered about our home was this: Your unbelievable and unimpeachable want of interest or concern for the world about you, the sort of a world I sketched above.

“You came to us quite as if you had been the first of the resurrection out of those old cemeteries in which now . . . the thousands of Abijahs and Clorys [lie]. The unbelievable and unimpeachable . . . detachment from this world about us, with which you came from your world, both charmed and fascinated us, as well as giving us a needed rest and a needed change. As day after day we watched you wear their clothes, sit at our table and eat their food; listened to you sing their songs; watched you, candle in your hand, led the way through their houses and show us their intimate belongings, we, too, became part of that world from which you came and of which you had become a part.

“And then to listen to them talk, hearing them speak the language they used and with the old, familiar words, that was a treat as rare as would be a day of peace in these jittery times.”

(Joseph Walker, Hollywood, to Maurine Whipple, Sept. 5, 1940. Whipple Collection, Dixie State University Special Collections.)

Zoom Maurine Whipple Event Annoucement

We will hold a Zoom event on Sunday, October 11, 8:00 pm Mountain Time (7:00 pm Pacific), where all can come and share their questions and comments on The Giant Joshua. The event will feature several people who knew Maurine personally sharing their memories of her, including the poet Carol Lynn Pearson, Maurine’s biographer Veda Hale, the author Marilyn Brown, and the publisher Curtis Taylor. All who have joined us in reading the novel over the last two months are invited to attend and share their feelings about the book.

Zoom link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85698612887

Meeting ID: 856 9861 2887

Comments

  1. Excited about the Zoom event. I loved reading this book and reading your commentary. Thank you!

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