Professors Corry Cropper and Chris Flood recently published their book "Mormons in Paris" as an analysis of how the French used early Mormon polygamy to satirize French culture in the 1800s.
Associate Dean Corry Cropper (French and Italian) and Associate Professor Christopher Flood (French and Italian) recently published their book Mormons in Paris, an analysis of the use of early Mormon polygamy to satirize French culture in the 1800s.
Cropper stated, “The start of [Mormons in Paris] was another project that I'm working on with Daryl Lee (French and Italian) and Heather Belnap (Art History/Comparative Arts and Letters). We're doing this project on the way the French viewed and represented Mormons from the 1830s all the way up to the first World War.”
As part of his research, Cropper came across four operettas, or musical comedies, each depicting early Mormon polygamy. After Cropper presented his findings at the BYU Christensen Lecture, interest sparked in students and faculty alike.
Cropper stated, “People afterwards were like ‘Hey, I want to read those,’ and they weren't French speakers, so that's when I invited Chris [Flood] on board.”
Flood explained, “If you look at some works in the 18th century, there's a lot of satire that is aimed at France, but it's done kind of through . . . the voice of Persians traveling through France, and polygamy is a major part of the comedy there.”
Polygamy was used as a tool to address the French concerns of the sacrament of marriage and the Catholic Church’s stance on divorce.
Flood said, “When marriage [became] a sacrament of the church in the Middle Ages, up until that point, it wasn't regulated by the church or the government unless it [involved] nobles. . . . So, when it [became] a sacrament and when it [started] to be regulated, [there was] actually quite a bit of resistance. . . . There are always these questions and satires regarding marriage and what [it means] to be married. How does the church intervene? And frequently, the real question is around divorce.”
Flood continued, “I wasn't surprised when Corry presented these works. They're using . . . depictions of foreign marriage that doesn't conform to what they expect in their society, to analyze and to discuss at arms length their own anxieties and problems around marriage.”
Cropper stated that marriage is joined in theme by issues of colonialism in France. One play, Japheth's Twelve Wives, depicts Salt Lake City as an exotic, wild place with bamboo and lush vegetation. The main character wears a light colored suit, resembling the clothing of a colonial master. By the end of the play, the twelve wives are wearing Parisian clothes and speaking in Parisian slang.
Cropper stated, “I think it's smart because it's like ‘Oh, look how different they are’ and then at the end, you're like ‘Oh wait, they’re quite a bit like us.’”
Flood and Cropper hope this book will allow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to understand that depictions of "Mormons" in nineteenth-century France are primarily about French anxieties about changing family structure and about the evolution of the French Civil Code.
Cropper said, “The way the operettas are structured is pretty smart I think in the way that it uses satire to cause people to turn the gaze back on themselves.”
For more information about Mormons in Paris, visit https://mormonsinparis.byu.edu/.