Fawn McKay Brodie: A Biographer’s Life

Fawn Mckay Brodie has cast a long shadow across the landscape of Mormon studies since 1945, when her controversial biography of Joseph Smith appeared. Since that time, she has been alternately praised or vilified, cited or ignored. Some consider her a saint, others are sure she is a devil. Within the Mormon community, it is almost impossible to be neutral about her work. While this biography does not reconcile these views, it does allow readers to see Fawn Brodie within the broader context of her family, her life choices, her marriage, her own world as wife and mother, her education and literary productions, and her views on the world of the Mormon Utah that both shaped and repelled her.

Newell Bringhurst teaches history and political science at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1975, writing a dissertation on the history of Mormon attitudes towards Blacks. His dissertation was published by Greenwood Press in 1981. This study was followed by a short biography of Brigham Young, issued in the Library of American Biography Series published by Little, Brown in 1986. With the exception of a few articles on other Mormon topics, much of his research and publishing since then has focused on Fawn Brodie. Between 1989 and 1997, he published eleven articles on her life and thought, and in 1996 he edited a volume of essays on No Man Knows My History that grew out of the conference held on the fiftieth anniversary of that biography’s publication. To those who have followed these essays, Bringhurst’s research and approach are already clear. But the biography gives a fuller and more complete accounting of his work, even though he does not directly inform the reader that much of the volume has appeared in other places.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 39:2
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