The Bible is full of golden texts of inspiration and maxims of sound doctrine, but Zephene Hammond thinks they’re just words on a page. Although she considers herself a Christian, she doesn’t think those Bible verses have any real meaning in her life.
So when her Sunday school teacher challenges Zephene to look at the golden texts with fresh eyes, Zephene reluctantly takes up the challenge. Before long, Zeph sees that the Bible really can fit into her daily life and help her become a girl who always tells the exact truth.
This 1890 classic Christian novel was first published as a serial in The Pansy magazine. Click on the cover to begin reading The Exact Truth now.
In her books Isabella Alden often mentioned the works of other authors she read and admired.
One such example was in Isabella’s book, Links in Rebecca’s Life. In that story, newly-married Rebecca Edwards was settling into her new life in the home of her very critical mother-in-law.
At breakfast one morning, Mrs. Edwards criticized Rebecca for drinking coffee that was too hot, in Mrs. Edwards’ opinion.
“I wonder at you, Rebecca, for drinking your coffee so hot; it is very bad for the teeth.”
Rebecca laughed in her old gleeful way, and replied:
“I am like ‘Fred and Maria and Me,’ I like my coffee ‘bilin’. Frank, did you ever read that delightful book?”
“Never heard of it. What an extraordinary title! Is it good?”
“It is capital,” Rebecca had said, ignoring, as Frank did, his mother’s question.
“Do you mean the book, or the title, my son?” Then she had turned to Rebecca. “Did you say that was the title? How very singular! One would suppose the editor would have corrected so remarkable a grammatical error as that!”
And Rebecca’s eyes danced as she answered, “It is by Mrs. Dr. Prentice, you remember. She is one of our most popular authors. I suspect she wanted the grammatical part of it to appear just as it did.”
Mrs. Prentiss did, indeed. Fred and Maria and Me was written by Elizabeth Prentiss in the perspective of an elderly woman from Goshen, Maine. The heroine, Aunt Avery, made generous use of the local Maine dialect.
Throughout the story, Mrs. Prentiss’s characters used words like “t’wasn’t,” “your’n,” “p’inted” (instead of “pointed”), and other grammatically incorrect terms that would have made prim Mrs. Edwards swoon.
Originally, Fred and Maria and Me was published as a serial in Hours at Home: A Popular Monthly of Instruction and Recreation in 1865. When Elizabeth Prentiss first saw her story in the magazine, she wasn’t happy:
“I have just got hold of the Hours at Home. I read my article and was disgusted with it. My pride fell below zero, and I wish it would stay there.”
But the reading public disagreed. Reviewers praised the story and declared Aunt Avery was “a very quaint and interesting type of New England religious character.”
Elizabeth Prentiss soon changed her mind about the story.
“Poor old Aunt Avery! She doesn’t know what to make of it that folks make so much of her and has to keep wiping her spectacles.”
The popularity of Fred and Maria and Me may have surprised Elizabeth Prentiss, but not the publishing industry. The story’s “quaintness, simplicity, and truthfulness” created such a demand that it was published as a book in 1867 to great acclaim. A second printing appeared in 1872, six years before Isabella wrote Links in Rebecca’s Life.
It was just an old letter she found stuck between the pages of a book. Though curious about how it got there, the only thing Miss Sarah Stafford intended to do with the letter was throw it away; but when an over-zealous servant mails the letter instead, Miss Stafford must do her best to get it back. Or should she? Before long, Sarah Stafford finds herself immersed in the lives of the young woman who wrote the letter years before and the confused young man who ultimately received it. But instead of changing their lives, that missent letter may alter the course of Miss Stafford’s future in ways she never expected.
This edition of the 1900 classic Christian novel includes a biography of the author and additional bonus content.
In 1902 Isabella Alden published her most controversial book, Mara.
Mara is the story of a young woman who unknowingly marries a Mormon man with multiple wives. What made Mara controversial wasn’t the plot. Novels with similar themes of an innocent young woman duped into marrying a polygamous Mormon husband had been published for over 50 years.
Author Metta Victor created the sub-genre with her book Mormon Wives, published in 1856. In the book two women, life-long friends, find themselves married to and betrayed by the same Mormon man.
After that book’s success, an estimated fifty novels were published by 1900, vilifying the Mormon religion. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, A Study in Scarlet depicted Mormon President Brigham Young as a villain and the Mormon Church steeped in kidnapping, murder and enslavement of its women.
So what made Isabella’s novel Mara different from all the others?
In 1902 when Mara was published, the topic of polygamy was at the forefront of American consciousness. Only a few years before, Americans believed, polygamy had been abolished; they believed plural marriages did not exist because the Mormon Church had assured the Federal Government the practice had been abolished. That assurance had been required of Utah as part of its transition from territory to state.
Utah’s transition had been a long and contentious process. The Federal Government had tried numerous ways of outlawing polygamy in the past through the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, and again in the 1882 Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act. But the LDS Church defied the laws and continued to sanction plural marriage. Under President Grover Cleveland the Federal Government tried to enforce the laws by arresting and imprisoning men who could be proven to be polygamists.
But the Federal Government’s only effective weapon was blocking statehood, and residents of Utah keenly felt the effects. They couldn’t vote in Federal elections and their territory was ruled by a governor, secretary and judges appointed by the President of the United States.
In 1890 the LDS Church appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act was unconstitutional because it prohibited Mormons from practicing their religion, of which plural marriage was an essential part. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Edmunds Act.
In 1890 Mormon Church president Wilford Woodruff published his “Manifesto,” which declared an end to the practice of polygamy in the Church. Doing so paved the way for Utah to become a state; and six years later Utah joined the Union. Protestants in America breathed a sigh of relief.
But almost immediately after the Manifesto was issued, certain members of the Mormon Church resumed the practice of polygamy clandestinely. Ranking members of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other members of the Church entered into plural marriages—and sanctified plural marriages of others—in direct defiance of the Manifesto.
The rest of the country felt it had been duped and a wave of outrage swept across America. Some believed there was a great Mormon conspiracy to take over the U.S. government. Concern deepened when the Utah Legislature chose Reed Smoot—a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—to be the State’s new Senator.
Protestant churches organized massive petitions against allowing Mr. Smoot a seat in the Senate; and the U.S. Senate responded by conducting a multi-year investigation into the Mormon Church and its influence in the state of Utah.
Mara was written in the climate of that time. Like other anti-polygamy novels before, Mara’s plot centered around a young woman who married a successful and gentlemanly man from Utah, only to later discover she was his latest in a string of wives. Mara was also a reminder to readers that America had to remain vigilant in ensuring polygamy as a practice was removed from American society.
Today some might think Mara’s plot is simply sensational fiction; but Isabella Alden’s novels were always rooted in a common truth: her characters lose their way only when their relationship with God wanes. She used the story to show how easy it was for a young woman to fall under a wrong influence in a time of weakness in her life.
In Mara Isabella also displayed some sympathy for the wives and children of the plural unions, which may have been one reason the book came under scrutiny. Some public libraries, including the library in Isabella’s town of Palo Alto, California, banned the book because it dealt with the topic of polygamy, which library trustees considered an immoral practice.
America, for the most part, did not share Isabella’s pity. Their abhorrence for polygamy (and all who engaged in the practice, including the wives) reached new heights during the four years it took the U.S. Senate to conduct their investigation into practices of the Mormon Church. In the end, the Mormon Church submitted to pressure and outlawed polygamy once and for all, and established a new practice of excommunicating Church members who entered into plural marriages.
Reed Smoot was eventually seated as a United States Senator from the State of Utah. He served his state and his country honorably for almost thirty years, and, by his conduct, helped force a profound shift in America’s perception of Mormonism.
Eventually, Mara was returned to the shelves of the Palo Alto Public Library, but many libraries and stores considered the book too controversial to stock.