Margaret Wilde died a lingering and pathetic death in Utah, far from her loving family and her native New England soil. She was killed by her husband's polygamy, her will to live sapped by the barbarism of a bizarre new cult. Margaret's husband Richard "dared to trample the heart of a woman under his foot." Lured by promises of wealth and power to convert to Mormonism and to emigrate to Utah with his young bride, he succumbed to the temptations of polygamy after only two years in the territory. Making the betrayal even more poignant, the other woman in the story was Sarah Irving, Margaret's childhood friend. The dark, tempestuous Sarah had hoped to be Richard's first choice; she assuaged her conscience with pamphlets by free-love advocates who argued that monogamy was contrary to man's primitive nature. She followed the Wildes to Utah, and there seduced Richard. When told of Richard's perfidy, Margaret developed a fatal brain fever.
On her deathbed, Margaret blessed and forgave her killers, requesting only that Richard remain true to Sarah for the rest of their lives. Sarah was willing, but Richard blanched. He had taken a third wife only that morning. Sarah, devastated as much by the death of her friend as by Richard's duplicity, immediately saw the error of her ways. She vowed on Margaret's grave to return to the East, and there to devote herself to anti-polygamy advocacy: "Always, always, my voice shall rise in defense of one love, constant through life, and faithful in death - one home - one father and mother for the children - one joy on earth - one hope in heaven."
So ends Metta Victor's Mormon Wives, one of the earliest examples of anti-polygamy fiction, a genre that eventually saw publication of some 80 full-length novels by the early twentieth century. Although clearly embedded in the sentimental tradition, anti-polygamy fiction has escaped widespread scholarly notice, despite its ubiquity in the second half of the nineteenth century. Contributors to the genre included Arthur Conan Doyle, whose first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, opened with a blood-curdling murder in London, culminating a long quest for revenge against Mormons who had captured the murderer's young fiancee for the seraglio of an elder. By the time Conan Doyle took up his pen in the 1880's, anti-Mormon fiction was a well-known literary genre in both the United States and England. In the mid-1850's, however, anti-polygamy fiction was a new phenomenon, the exclusive preserve of women authors, themselves a recent (and extremely profitable) addition to the repertoire of the publishing industry.
Sarah B. Gordon,
"Our National Hearthstone": Anti- Polygamy Fiction and the Sentimental Campaign Against Moral Diversity in Antebellum America,
Yale J.L. & Human.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol8/iss2/1