The Dramatic Biography of Emma Smith


Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph, has long attracted the interest of Latter-day Saints. For more than a century after the death of Joseph Smith, Mormons looked upon Emma with disfavor. Then, in recent years, her reputation has been restored. Indeed, several LDS authors have suggested that Emma deserves our sympathy and understanding. Foremost among those who have administered historical artificial respiration to her character is Erwin Wirkus. In his book, Judge Me Dear Reader (Orem, Utah: Randall Publishers, 1978), Wirkus pleads with his readers to understand Emma, to realize how truly difficult her life was, and to forgive her for her shortcomings. That this favorable view of Emma has gained widespread acceptance is attested to by the approval of this point of view by Church Correlation. Evidence of that sanction is the lesson on Emma Smith and section twenty-five of the Doctrine and Covenants in the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School manual for 1978–79.

Because Emma has come full circle from disfavor to favor, it would seem that the time is right for a balanced view, even for a definitive biography of the “real” Emma Smith. But alas, Emma by Keith and Ann Terry is not that book. The authors of Emma candidly confess that “this book is not and does not pretend to be a definitive biography of Emma Smith” (p. xx). It is neither definitive nor “historically accurate biography,” as claimed on the dust jacket. Indeed, what research was invested in this work is totally inadequate. A careful reading of Emma reveals the authors’ failure to use the best and most authoritative sources, faulty organization, poor writing style, exaggerations, and confusion of places, events, and people.

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