Bayard Taylor’s “The Prophet”

Mormonism as Literary Taboo

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Popular fiction settled the nineteenth-century Mormon image into the stereotype of the popular villain, but not many literary masters dealt with the subject of Mormonism or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One significant break in the silence on the Mormon topic in the great works of the time was Bayard Taylor’s poetry drama The Prophet: A Tragedy. Taylor created fictional names for obvious Mormon characters in the play (David Starr for Joseph Smith and Nimrod Kraft for Brigham Young), and the play was clearly about Mormonism, though Taylor later denied the Mormon elements and argued that the play’s focus was on the dangers of a close adherence to the Bible. Critics, such as Henry James, denounced the drama for both its poetry and its inherently vulgar subject, and the strong criticism the drama received effectively silenced any further interest other writers may have had in Mormonism.

 

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