My Book of the Month has been posted for over two months now, but I'm pushing hard to wind up Mormon Enigma soon. Here are comments on the first half, roughly through 1844. I highly recommend the book--it reveals Emma as a smart, resourceful, tough woman, who always managed to bounce back from what seems like a constant succession of setbacks and difficulties. She was a compassionate woman who was a source of support and an example to the women around her (some of whom, to her chagrin, turned out to be Joseph's plural wives, but that's not the focus of this post). Reading Mormon Enigma, I've come to realize what a key role Emma played in Joseph's overall popularity. You had to like one of them--like Bill and Hillary. Or JFK and Jackie. Kurt and Courtney. Peter Parker and Mary Jane?
I'll just highlight one period that I thought depicted events I didn't grasp reading other LDS histories, the period at Nauvoo from 1843 to 1844 and the extent to which things at Nauvoo were unravelling for Joseph at this time. Secret polygamy gets really complicated and is, at the same time, quite risky, especially when your wife (first wife?) doesn't know about it. Emma, running the Relief Society, worked actively against polygamy, seeing her role as promoting virtue and largely unaware, it seems, of the extent to which polygamy was going on around her. She got upset when she found letters from Eliza Snow to Joseph (p. 158-59). She got upset when visiting a local family, only to discover (whoops!) that Joseph had given the 16-year-old daughter Flora a gold watch (yes, she was) (p. 159). When confronted earlier, Joseph had "told Emma that he would give up his wives. But he confided to Clayton that he did not intend to keep his word" (p. 158). Emma vascillated too, at times granting Joseph a wife or two, then turning harsh again. Like I said, complicated.
By mid-1843, Joseph was getting sick more often and was losing his temper too (p. 159). Emily Partridge (yes, she was) reported Joseph would "walk the floor back and forth, with his hands clasped behind him" showing deep concern and anxiety (p. 163-64). Then, on November 5, 1843, he "became suddently sick at dinner and vomited so hard that he dislocated his jaw and 'raised fresh blood,'" causing Joseph to think Emma had poisoned him, which was almost certainly untrue (p. 164). In December a similar incident occurred at breakfast (p. 164-65). Food poisoning, ulcers from emotional tension and conflict, or simple acute indigestion are more likely explanations for these episodes (p. 164). That explains the physical symptoms, but not his willingness to suspect Emma of such an act.
At the same time in 1843-44, there were dinner parties for dozens of guests and parades of the Nauvoo Legion. Work on the large and nicely furnished Nauvoo House continued. So things weren't all bad. But there were warrants, too, threats of arrest, debts and creditors, and opposition from some Mormons in Nauvoo as well as surrounding communities. The last year in Nauvoo was a really tough year. Despite these difficulties (which Emma bore as heavily as Joseph) Emma never publicly repudiated Joseph's prophetic calling or exploits then or in later years. She did come to dispute the validity of plural marriage, but not of what we now call "The Restoration."