Sherlock Holmes and the Mormon Church

Victorian novels are no stranger to the concept of oddities. In fact, as we discussed in class, it is widely known that the Victorians had an intense fascination with the strange and unusual. The writings of Conan Doyle, more specifically A Study in Scarlet, is no exception to this. A good portion of the story is devoted to explaining the background of the killer. While Holmes and Watson are not explicitly told this part of the story, we can assume that Watson does hear about it from somewhere based off the line “As to what occurred there, we cannot do better than quote the old hunter’s own account, as duly recorded in Dr Watson’s Journal, to which we are already under such obligations.” (110 Doyle). This shows that Watson, in the very least is aware of the situation and reasoning behind the killer’s vengeance. Doyel’s usage of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called the Church of Latter-day Saints or the Mormon Church) is similar to that of the way that the Victorians would treat objects from other cultures and areas of the world. Doyel’s portrayal of Mormons in A Study in Scarlet presents those of the Mormon faith as an oddity in comparison with the orthodoxy that the English Victorian society would be used to in their lives. The lifestyle of Mormons, while accurate to our modern-day depictions of cults and other strange faiths in America, is exaggerated and treated as something to both fear and be ogled over while still informing the consumer of the media of the lifestyle and concerns of those living in the faith. While the accuracy of this depiction is up for debate, it is a dramatic depiction none the less. The concept of the Mormon church as a faith that encourages polygamy and lives in Utah is a concept so polar to that of the Church of England and the Catholic faith in London that the mention of Mormons would both fascinate and shock the reader. Between the shock factor and the easy demonizable implementation of polygamy in their faith makes the Church of Latter-day Saints not only the perfect villain to spur on a dramatic and heart-renching plot, but also perfect to add just enough shock to keep the Victorian reader tied into the story. 

One thought on “Sherlock Holmes and the Mormon Church”

  1. It is funny to think of Mormon’s as the perfect villain, but your point about the intrigue and exoticism they would bring to victorian readers is a good one and points out something interesting about the English’s understanding of other cultures. One thing I would have liked to see more of would be direct references to the dramatization, because other than polygamy and corruption (which was hardly exotic) I wasn’t overwhelmed by oddities.

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