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US IB English-A Study in Scarlet: "The Mormon Segment"

Living history: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Got Mormons All Wrong

By Eileen Hallet Stone
Special To The Tribune
July 29, 2016

In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first full-length detective mystery novel, "A Study in Scarlet," in London's paperback magazine, Beeton's Christmas Annual. In it, he introduced readers to the fictional eccentric but brilliant "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes and his loyal friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson. Although Conan Doyle was destined to spark enormous popularity among British readers, "A Study in Scarlet" reaped animosity among Mormon missionaries in England. The poetic license that fueled Conan Doyle's rousing but fictionalized tale of romance, tragedy, rescue, retribution and murder was peppered with historical falsehoods about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Arthur Conan Doyle, a Portsmouth physician, had employed less than accurate research in using the Mormons in Utah as a backdrop for his story," historian Harold Schindler wrote in the April 10, 1994, issue of The Salt Lake Tribune. "At the height of anti-Mormonism on the continent, [it] bolstered what [readers] long suspected — that Danites, the Avenging Angels of 'Mormondon,' were steeped in the assassination of apostates; and polygamy was white slavery." "A Study in Scarlet" is a two-part mystery. In the first, recorded by Watson, Holmes uses rationality and forensic science to solve the separate murders of former Utah Mormons, Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson, found with the word "RACHE," or "revenge," written on the wall in blood. In the second part, Conan Doyle transitions to early 1847 and the Utah Territory where John Ferrier and child Lucy were lost in the western desert and rescued by Mormons.

For years, Ferrier conformed to their religious doctrine but disapproved of polygamy. He resolutely believed "nothing would ever induce him to allow his [adopted] daughter to wed a Mormon." When Lucy falls in love with non-Mormon prospector Jefferson Hope, Ferrier is warned — "If she wed[s] a Gentile, she commits a grievous sin,"— and given a month to choose marriage to polygamist Drebber or Stangerson. Ferrier locked his door, cleaned his "rusty old shot-gun" and, seeking help, contacted Hope, the perpetrator and second narrator in part two. Failing to lead them safely out of the territory, Hope described discovering Ferrier buried in a "low-lying heap of reddish soil" and his fiancé Lucy — kidnapped and forced to marry Drebber — dead within the month.

Hope judged Drebber and Stangerson culpable for the two deaths, but was unable to get them convicted. When the polygamists fled the country, he tracked them down to exact a terrible revenge. Some see Conan Doyle's research shaped by various writers, including the Mormon dissident Fanny Stenhouse and former Mormon elder John Hyde, critics of plural marriage; Mark Twain's novel experience in the American West; and Brigham Young's Danites dramatized beyond belief by legend, lore and newspaper accounts. Amid contentions that Conan Doyle "sensationalized" his Mormon story, Sherlock Holmes' readership soared.

Over time, Conan Doyle adopted Spiritualism. On tour in America in 1923, he stopped in Salt Lake City under the auspices of the extension division of the University of Utah to address the "mysteries of life after death" at the Tabernacle. The May 12 Salt Lake Telegram reported Conan Doyle "insists [the dead] are not dead, but only gone to another, more advanced field of existence." The once-loathed Conan Doyle wildly enthralled an audience of some 5,000 and may have earned redemption. Or not. Staying briefly with family at the Hotel Utah, Conan Doyle received a letter from Dr. G. Hodgson Higgins. A non-Mormon, Higgins critiqued that "A Study in Scarlet" twisted his view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and "gave the impression that murder was a common practice among [Mormons]."

Conan Doyle responded, "… All I said of the Danite band and [their] murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that tho' it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It is best to let the matter rest, I think, and draw the Mormons as they now are." Eileen Hallet Stone, author of "Hidden History of Utah" and "Historic Tales of Utah," a new compilation of her "Living History " columns in The Salt Lake Tribune, may be reached at

Additional Sources: Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," May 9, 1923, "Daily Utah Chronicle," May 11 and 13, 1923 "Salt Lake Telegram," and e-image of Doyle's letter from the LDS Church History Library.

Sherlock Holmes Banned from Reading Lists for Being Anti-Mormon

Virginia school board declares 'A Study in Scarlet' to be derogatory
By Ujala Sehgal
August 13, 2011

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories have appealed to generations -- but on Thursday the Albemarle County School Board in Virginia voted to remove the detective's A Study in Scarlet from sixth-grade reading lists, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reports, because it is, as the board reported, age-inappropriate. But as the Los Angeles Times notes, "The two gory murders weren't the problem. The trouble was the way the book portrays Mormonism."

The case against Sherlock Holmes began with the parent of a Henley Middle School student challenging the book in May on grounds that it was derogatory toward Mormons. The parent, Brette Stevenson, said, "A Study in Scarlet has been used to introduce students to the mystery genre and into the character of Sherlock Holmes. This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion.” Ultimately the school board agreed and it was deemed inappropriate for the age group, but it will be available for older students.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, the mystery revolves around a corpse found at a derelict house in England with the word "RACHE" scrawled in blood on the wall beside the body. In the second part of the story, it flashes back to 1847 Utah, where a man named John Ferrier and a little girl named Lucy, near death from dehydration, are discovered by a large party of Mormons, led by Brigham Young, who rescue them on the condition that they adopt the Mormon faith. USA Today tries to pick out some of the controversial passages:

(John Ferrier) had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints.

It's attracted controversy before. According to a 1994 Salt Lake Tribune article, when Doyle visited Utah in 1923, he was asked (via letter) about his depiction of the Latter Day Saints' organization as being "steeped in the assassination of apostates, and that polygamy was white slavery" and so forth: 

Sir Arthur responded that in the future he would write of the Latter-day Saints as he found them on his visit. But, he insisted, "all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that tho[sic] it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It's best to let the matter rest." That and his praise of the pioneers was as close as he would come to a public apology.

Not everyone was happy about the removal of the book from sixth grade reading lists. Apparently "more than 20 former Henley students turned out to oppose the book’s removal from the lists."

Rising Western Albemarle High School ninth-grader Quinn Legallo-Malone spoke during public comment to oppose removal of the book. He called the work “the best book I have read so far... I was capable of reading it in sixth grade. I think it was a good challenge. I’m upset that they’re removing it.”

The parent who led the censorship challenge, on the other hand, was pleased. “I think the process worked,” she said to the Daily Progress. We wonder what Holmes would have made of this.

The Creator of Sherlock Holmes Was, Like Many Victorians, Fascinated by Mormons


The first story featuring iconic detective Sherlock Holmes, ‘A Study in Scarlet,’ was published on this day in 1887—and set in Mormon Utah

In November 1887, a young writer named Arthur Conan Doyle published his first story about a soon-to-be-famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. The dark tale, which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, was titled A Study in Scarlet. Some of its most dramatic parts are set in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, in 1847, and follow a non-Mormon’s interactions with the Mormon followers of Brigham Young.

The novel paints a bleak portrait of Mormonism. The story includes forced marriage and violence, two things that were part of the British view of Mormons at the time.

When it came out, Hal Schindler wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune in 1994, “it provoked no great stir as a story nor did it especially signal the immense popularity for which its author and his creation were destined... it did, however, rankle Mormon missionaries to England, and sorely tested the tolerance of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in America.” At the time he wrote the story, Conan Doyle had never even been to America. His choice of Mormons, portrayed as rapacious murderers in his work, reflected English beliefs about the primarily American faith.

Though the story didn’t make a huge splash at the time, over the years, it helped shape how British people perceived Mormons, writes Schindler. But it was part of a larger trend. “Doyle’s sensationalistic portrait of the Mormons had drawn upon what was already an extensive body of commentary in the British press,” writes scholar Sebastian Lecourt. “Since the late 1830s, when the Mormons had begun to attract English converts, a growing number of journalists, travel writers and novelists had been stoking the English public’s curiosity about this strange American sect, with its message of a new revelation and a restored biblical theocracy.”

These British writers were at best ambivalent about Mormons, Lecourt writes. On the one hand, polygamy was a bad fit with Victorian values; but on the other, he writes, some English commentators “started to identify with the Mormons, celebrating their establishment of a thriving colony on the Utah plateau as a great vanguard movement of Anglo-Saxon settler colonialism.”

For Conan Doyle, Mormons were at once sort of English–Christian, white, and descended from English people or from England themselves–and profoundly exotic. His choice to put Mormonism at the center of his story would have attracted the attention of the reading public, Schindler wrote. It certainly helped Doyle–and Sherlock–rise to fame.

Mormonism in "A Study in Scarlet": Colonization on the Frontiers (of Sherlockian Logic)

A Study in Scarlet recounts Jefferson Hope's murder of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. Although it occurs in London, the homicide is precipitated by events in Utah Territory, which introduced a British audience to a vast frontier both untamed and beautiful. The land, which functions in the text as the quintessence of American alterity, is inextricably related to John Ferrier, Jefferson Hope, and Lucy Ferrier, Arthur Conan Doyle's independent and beautiful young woman whose capture by Brigham Young's band mirrors the settlement and colonization of the landscape. In this essay, I argue that Conan Doyle's exotic depiction of the land and its inhabitants complicates the precarious relationship between the Mormon adherents and Conan Doyle's idealized American West. Like seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers, Brigham Young and his devotees strike off on their own with the stated goal of religious freedom, but in doing so they impose a colonial order on what Conan Doyle describes as an uncultivated environment. Furthermore, this particular representation of colonization and the American West occupies an anomalous place in the Holmes canon. What has become known as the "Mormon segment" in Conan Doyle criticism is never actually reported to Holmes or Watson in A Study in Scarlet ; they solve the case with none of the backstory that was provided to the reader. I argue that the seemingly disparate Mormon episode functions as a formal frontier of Sherlock Holmes's system of logical deduction. The exoticized Utah desert and project of colonization circumvents Holmes's usual methods of analysis, which attests to the complexities of colonialism and displacement in the nineteenth-century American West. To read the full article, click HERE.

Dearinger, Lindsay. “Mormonism in ‘A Study in Scarlet’: Colonization on the Frontiers (of Sherlockian Logic).” CEA Critic, vol. 76, no. 1, 2014, pp. 52–71. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Aug. 2020.

A Study in Scarlet- Review in the Journal of Mormon History

Since the first appearance of Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet in 1887, most reviewers have concentrated on Part I, "The Reminiscences of John H. Watson, rather than on Part II, "The Country of the Saints." For obvious reasons, the London-based portion of the first Sherlock Holmes story, describing his deductive methods, personal idiosyncracies, and encounter with the admiring John Watson, is considered more important than the Mormon melodrama. That melodrama is a rather improbable romance about John Ferrier and his ward, little Lucy, who are rescued from sure death in the American desert by the harsh-faced and harsh-faithed Mormons en route to Utah. Shortly after their recovery, Ferrier adopts Lucy as his daughter, they convert to Mormonism, and be come very prosperous in Utah. Ferrier refuses to marry and definitely re fuses polygamy. When Lucy is a blooming young woman, Brigham Young orders her marriage to either Enoch Drebber or Joseph Stangerson—both practicing polygamists and sons of members of the (mythical) Council of the Sacred Four-within a month. Ferrier refuses Young's ultimatum and, together with Lucy, attempts to escape Utah with the help of a non-Mormon, Jefferson Hope. Young's Avenging Angels (read Danites) track them and attack. Lucy's father dies, and several days later, the broken hearted Lucy follows. Hope escapes and vows vengeance on Drebber and Stangerson. After a twenty-year search, he tracks them down. To read the full review, click HERE.

Homer, Michael W. Journal of Mormon History, vol. 20, no. 2, 1994, pp. 179–181. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Aug. 2020.

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