The Giant Joshua

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First edition (1942), Houghton Mifflin

The Giant Joshua is a 1942 novel written by Maurine Whipple about polygamy in nineteenth-century Utah Dixie. It is the first (and only written) volume of a proposed trilogy on the "Mormon Idea."[1]


Among the many real characters such as Brigham Young, John D. Lee, and Erastus Snow, The Giant Joshua focuses primarily on Abijah MacIntyre and his wives, Bathsheba, Willie, and Clorinda (Clory). They move to southern Utah where they are prominent members of the communities of Washington, Santa Clara, and St. George during their founding years. The book focuses on Clory's life, starting with her as a 17-year-old third bride to the forty-year-old Abijah. Abijah unexpectedly consummates their marriage and Clory becomes disillusioned with wifely obedience. Abijah's teenage son, Freeborn, comforts Clory and Abijah brings the two to Erastus Snow, who rebukes them all. Later, Clory is pregnant and determined to leave St. George, but stays after seeing the natural beauty of a large group of Sego Lilies. Drought and heavy rains wreak havoc on the town, and the harvest is poor. Clory gives birth to a daughter nicknamed Kissy, and John D. Lee is ignored by his neighbors after the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Freeborn is killed by Indians, and Clory becomes depressed and has a miscarriage. Abijah blesses Kissy after she falls out of a wagon in an accident, and Clory feels love for him.

Clory has two more children, Abijah leaves on a mission to England, and all three of Clory's children die in the aftermath of a plague of grasshoppers. Abijah blames Clory, and she learns glovemaking to earn money. When Abijah returns from his mission, he gives her a house and she gives birth to a son, Jim. Abijah's second wife, Willie, dies in childbirth after he refuses to send for a doctor. Clory takes organ lessons from one of Brigham Young's wives, who also teaches her how to raise silk worms. Clory feels contentment with her position in life. The discovery of silver nearby brings miners to the town, which brings new challenges. Brigham Young dies and church leaders are arrested for practicing polygamy. Clory's hands are covered in sores from working with leather in her glovemaking work, and she keeps them bandaged. Abijah is called as the president of the Logan temple, takes a new, young wife and leaves his other wives behind. Erastus Snow dreams of using a spillway instead of dams to cope with St. George's flooding problems. Clory has a final miscarriage after she is frightened by a dog. On her deathbed, Clory realizes that she had a testimony all along.


Whipple's "Beaver Dam Wash" was submitted to the 1937 Rocky Mountain Writer's Conference.[2] At the conference, Ford Maddox Ford liked "Beaver Dam Wash" and convinced Ferris Greenslet, then vice president at Houghton Mifflin, to read it. Greenslet advised Whipple to make the novella a little longer; instead, Whipple proposed a Mormon epic and sent a sample chapter. Greenslet encouraged Whipple to apply for Houghton Mifflin's $1,000 literary fellowship for new writers working on their first novel.[3]:105; 110–111 Whipple lived with her parents while she wrote the chapters for the fellowship application, often getting inspiration right before falling asleep and working through the night. Greenslet helped her to apply for the fellowship, and she won the 1938 Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship.[4][3]:111–112 She went to Boston to accept the prize. Greenslet greatly encouraged Whipple while she wrote The Giant Joshua over the next three years. He constantly gave her advice, personally lent her money, and made it possible for her to stay at the artist colony Yaddo to finish her book.[5] Whipple disliked Yaddo, complaining that she felt lonely and isolated, and completed much writing there.[1] Joseph Walker, an ex-Mormon doctor from St. George living in Hollywood, read early manuscripts and wrote Whipple encouraging letters.[3]:161–163 Whipple was afraid of her work comparing unfavorably with Vardis Fisher's, but both Walker and Greenslet assured her that her writing was better than his.[3]:163–164 She wrote the manuscript in longhand and had others type it up for her. After its publication, The Giant Joshua was not very profitable to Whipple. As a fellowship winner, the accompanying contract was not generous, and Whipple received advances on her royalty checks to finish the novel.[5] Whipple also hired a literary agent, Maxim Liber, just after the publication of The Giant Joshua, and Liber took a percentage of money due to her. She fired him that August.[3]:194;211 Historian Juanita Brooks helped Whipple with historical details in The Giant Joshua, though Brooks was disappointed at the historical inaccuracies Whipple kept in the novel. Whipple was also inspired by her own family history and family stories from the Beckstrom family and Annie Atkin, who grew up in St. George and later married Vasco Tanner.[3]:132–133


The Giant Joshua sold well. It was fifth in a list of ten in Harper's Poll of the Critics and was second in The Denver Post's list of bestsellers.[4] The novel had fans who sent Whipple letters expressing their love for her epic novel.[6] Ray B. West in the Saturday Review of Literature wrote that the book showed the "tenderness and sympathy" between early Mormons.[1] However, The Giant Joshua did not have endorsement from any LDS Church leaders. John A. Widtsoe wrote in The Improvement Era that its treatment of polygamy was unfair,[6] though he praised how it showed the "epic value" of Mormon settlements.[1] In a private letter, Emma Ray McKay said she was "so disgusted with the author of The Giant Joshua that I can scarcely contain myself."[7] The book presents plural marriage as a test of faith similar to colonizing Utah's desert.[6] Later reception of the book was more positive. In 1983, Whipple sold the movie rights to the book, which provided for her in her old age.[4] In 1989, The Giant Joshua was the most-borrowed book in the Salt Lake City Public Library.[6] In "Fifty Important Mormon Books", Curt Bench reported that Mormon scholars in 1990 unanimously chose The Giant Joshua as the best Mormon novel before 1980.[8] In People of Paradox, Terryl Givens wrote that it is "perhaps the fullest cultural expression of the Mormon experience".[6] Eugene England described The Giant Joshua as "not the great Mormon novel, but the greatest."[9]

In the 1970s, with the growth of Mormons arts and criticism, The Giant Joshua enjoyed a resurgence, including a 1976 republication in hardback and attention from scholars.In 1978, folklorist William A. Wilson praised the way Whipple used folklore in context in a way that elicited sympathy and understanding of folk beliefs. He praised Whipple's portrayal of a Mormon experience, noting how she used folk narratives as plot elements, which paralleled the way faith-promoting events occurred and failed to occur. Clory herself vacillates between faith and disbelief. Wilson explains that one reason the book's last 200 pages fail is because they do not reference concrete folklore.[10]

Shortly before her death, Whipple was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Association for Mormon Letters and which added substance to her longheld belief that Mormons would eventually recognize the worth of her work.[1][11]

Trilogy and derivitave works

Whipple never finished a sequel to The Giant Joshua. The novel was translated into French as Clory, femme de Mormon. Whipple received payment for the film rights in her lifetime, but no film was ever made. Sterling Van Wagenen, cofounder of the Sundance Film Festival, often spoke of his desire to adapt The Giant Joshua to film.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e Embry, Jessie (1994). "Maurine Whipple: The Quiet Dissenter". In Launius, Roger D.; Thatcher, Linda. Differing visions: dissenters in Mormon history. Urbana [u.a.]: Univ. of Illinois Press. pp. 305–306. ISBN 9780252020698. 
  2. ^ Hale 2011, pp. 103–104.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hale, Veda Tebbs (2011), Swell suffering: a biography of Maurine Whipple, Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, ISBN 9781589581241 
  4. ^ a b c Hale, Veda Tebbs (August 1992), "In Memoriam Maureen Whipple" (PDF), Sunstone: 13–15 
  5. ^ a b Hale, Veda Tebbs (2008), Juanita Brooks Lecture Series: Maurine Whipple and her Joshua (PDF), St. George, Utah: Dixie State College of Utah, pp. 14–15 
  6. ^ a b c d e Givens, Terryl C. (2007). People of paradox : a history of Mormon culture. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 288–289; 291. ISBN 0195167112. 
  7. ^ Jepson, Theric. "Too sacred for public consumption -or- Disgusting the prophet’s wife", A Motley Vision. July 9, 2009. Accessed April 20, 2012.
  8. ^ Bench 1990.
  9. ^ Jorgensen, Bruce. "Retrospection: Giant Joshua" in Sunstone Magazine, September–October 1978. Accessed April 20, 2012.
  10. ^ Wilson, William A. (October 7, 1978). "Folklore in The Giant Joshua". Third Annual Symposium of The Association for Mormon Letters. Marriott Library, University of Utah: The Association for Mormon Letters. Archived from the original on 3 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Association for Mormon Letters awards database Accessed 6 Feb 2016. The citation for the award read: "Maurine Whipple, native of St. George, is the author of This Is the Place: Utah and a host of articles and short stories in Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Life, Time, and Pageant. She is especially esteemed for her prize-winning novel The Giant Joshua, considered by many to be the finest work or Mormon fiction."
  12. ^ "LDS FILMMAKER DREAMS OF `GIANT JOSHUA'". Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
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