Recently I came across Nephi Anderson’s 1907 short story “The Inevitable,” which was published in the August issue of The Improvement Era. The story recounts an evening discussion between Bert Archer, a recent Mormon convert, and Lucy, his non-Mormon wife. Lately, Bert has been trying to share his new-found faith with Lucy, who adamantly insists that she “shan’t and won’t be a ‘Mormon!” Bert is persistent, though, and presses his wife for an explanation. This is what ensues:
“I don’t understand ‘Mormonism,’ ” she continued, “and I can’t believe what I do not understand. And especially the marriage part of your religion-there are some things in it that I can’t and won’t believe.”
“What particular part, for instance?”
He did not laugh at her, but it was a big, broad smile which she saw across the table.
“As far as we are concerned here and now,” he said, “that is a matter scarcely worth debating. Wherever or whenever we see that ‘article’ we may be sure that it is contraband. You need not worry about polygamy, my dear. Let us get down to the first principles.”
“No; I am going to stay with the ‘higher principles,’ as you call them. Faith, repentance and baptism may be well enough, but what about plural marriage and these other things?”
“Well, what about them, dear?”
She did not reply, but she leaned forward and adjusted the coal in the grate. He wondered at the strange mood she was in tonight. When she sat up again she did not look at him, but at the picture of a sweet-faced woman [Bert’s deceased first wife] hanging on the wall above him. After a few moments, her eyes still fixed on the picture, she said:
“She must have been a beautiful girl. Was she?”
“I think so; and as good as she was beautiful.
“She had never heard of ‘Mormonism,’ had she?”
“No; she died six months before the ‘Mormon’ elders came to our town.”
“Had she lived, do you think she would have become a ‘Mormon?.”
“I have no doubt about it. Our religious views were much alike, and we often discussed principles which later I learned were gospel truths.”
“Did you ever discuss the marriage question with her?”
“Do husband and wife ever talk of marriage? Well, now-“
“I mean from the ‘Mormon’ viewpoint, of course, that of marriage for eternity.”
“Yes; although we did not have much light on the question, we having been taught from childhood that the marriage relations entered into here were only binding until death did us part. It seemed to us that there was something wrong, but we could not locate it. If we are eternal beings, we reasoned, and have an eternal principle, why should not love continue as long as there is existence. And then, again, what God does should be eternal, and we believed that when Parson Brown married us-as he married you and me-and said, ‘What God hath joined, let no man put asunder,’ we believed he had the authority which he claimed. But I’ll admit that we were somewhat at sea on these matters.”
“Now, Bert; tell me this: you believe that the true marriage state exists eternally. You loved your first wife as much-well as much as you say you love me. You will want her in the next world as much as you say you want me.” She looked fixedly at him across the table.
“True, dear, true, but-“
“Don’t you think, Bert, that I can see the inevitable result of this marriage system? Yes; I am not so dull, or so blind.-All you need to do is to be sealed to your first wife for eternity, and then marry me for time and eternity in your temple, and there you have it.”
Bert did not reply.
“You will then two wives at the same time,” she said.
“Your reasoning is absolutely correct,” he replied.
By today’s standards, and possibly even by those of its own day, “The Inevitable” is not a great story. Still, Bert and Lucy’s discussion of Mormon marriage doctrines, published three years after the so-called Second Manifesto and six months after the close of the Reed Smoot hearings, is a piece of Home Literature that exemplifies the cultural work being done by Mormon literature at the time. Bert, a well-read and articulate man, serves as a highly rational model of a believer, the antithesis of the stereotypical Mormon then being demonized by the national presses. What is more, he acts as a mouthpiece for the relatively new LDS stance on marriage, carefully distancing the Church and its men from polygamy (without, of course, disavowing the principle or its place in the hereafter) and affirming the inherent logic behind the principle of eternal marriage. Indeed, his confident, unabashed defense of Mormonism and its teachings seems calculated to assure Anderson’s 1907 readers that its okay to be a Latter-day Saint.
“The Inevitable” is not a well-known story, but it is among the many lost Mormon short stories that need to be dusted off and studied critically to better understand Mormon literature and its role in the creation of Mormon culture and life. Who knows what these forgotten texts have to teach us about ourselves and our cultural tradition?