First published in 1984 and marketed as a romance under the title A Woman of Destiny, Card's magnum opus deserves a wider readership than it has hitherto enjoyed. Best known for his fantasy fiction (Ender's Game, etc.), Card does an excellent job of depicting the Dickensian horrors of England undergoing industrialization in the early 19th century as well as the early trials of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints as experienced by his heroine, Dinah Kirkham. After converting to the new "Mormon" faith, Dinah emigrates from Britain to America, where she becomes one of the plural wives of the church's founder and prophet, Joseph Smith. The controversial Smith comes across as convincingly human as do the rest of Card's not always admirable characters. Not just for the LDS faithful (the author is himself a Mormon), this ambitious novel will appeal to anyone interested in a sensitive examination of the roots of religious feeling. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Saintsby Orson Scott Card
Saints is an epic of independence and devotion, of building the City of God in the wilderness of the American West. And it is the story of Dinah Kirkham, a powerful woman whose life tested all her strength. Previously published in mass market by Berkley under the title Woman of Destiny.
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By Orson Scott Card
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1984 Orson Scott Card
All rights reserved.
John Kirkham, Manchester, 1829
The day John Kirkham abandoned his family, he came home early from work. It was midafternoon, and Manchester bustled with business. He dodged carts and wagons and carriages all the way home. He remembered that when he was a young man he walked for pleasure, sending the carriage home early from the store. And then, when they had lost the house and moved into the rooms over the store, he had walked not at all, if he could help it. He was irritated by business, ashamed of the sweat of his brow. Sweat was for less sensitive men, the near-animals who made their nails and wove their endless cloth and tended their machinery in the factories that pumped the air out of the sky and replaced it with foul coal smoke.
This was not the first day John had left early. Many times, pushing another man's broom in another man's store, he had become impatient and taken his box of paints and pens and coals, and a sheaf of papers, and headed out of the city, beyond Broughton to the north or Ardwick to the east, to where the scenes were rustic and unspoiled, to where the carriages did not come.
There was no grace in carriages, or in any of the works of men, John was sure. To him all buildings were blocky protuberances from the surface of the earth; Manchester was a vast blemish. He could not paint with a carriage in the scene; the thought of drawing a shop or factory would never have occurred to him. Instead he had always painted the gentle, wild scenes by the River Medlock, upstream of Manchester where the water was drinkable and fish had strength to leap.
But now he had painted everything within a day's going and coming of Manchester. Even if he had not, he had no will to paint anything near this city, even if he saw something new. Tied to the shop by his need for money, where the work dulled him and slowed his mind and heart, he could not paint his best. True, the painters in London were forced to paint portraits, dull visions of dull people, in order to finance themselves in style. But at least they painted for their bread and were received as artists in society, not forced to bear the crude manners of factory men, not forced to smile and deferently give them what they wanted for their coins, their precious and grudgingly given pennies and shillings. A real painter never had fingers so stiff from gripping a broom that he could not hold a brush.
So today John left work early, but did not go to the countryside. Instead he headed home.
Home was surely not where he had intended to go. He had meant to go east, keep walking until he reached London, where a discriminating audience would soon recognize his talent. But, as always, his feet would not let him leave Anna, not without seeing her one last time. He tried to remember — hadn't he felt this way before? Hadn't he meant to leave, and then changed his mind because of Anna's comfortable ways?
Busy people passed him, hurrying, shoving sometimes, jostling and scrambling for place in the dirty streets. John refused to let his heart beat as quickly as theirs. His footsteps were slower. More relaxed. He could hear the silent criticisms as the busy men went by. Idler. Slacker. If you have no hurry, don't take place on the road. But I am not on the road, John answered. I am walking in the meadow God meant this place to be. You have hidden it in stone, but still my feet can feel the grass, my ears can hear the bees dozing on the dandelions.
Home was one apartment in a long building that stretched the length of a block of Bedford Street. It was a nice enough place, their cottage, but definitely middle class. Definitely middle-bordering-on-lower class. Not the home of a gentleman. I was meant to be a gentleman, John Kirkham thought bitterly. If the universe were properly run I would manage a great estate and paint in the garden in the afternoon. God is perfect when it comes to nature, but he's far too whimsical with the lives of men. Bees don't dig badger holes, yet I take small money and wait on barbarians. I have been mislaid in a world of brick. If my father had had the good sense to be as impotent as he was stupid, I might have had my soul placed in a different family, with the right advantages. The stone walls of the great houses in the countryside. Some men should not have had children.
"Dinah. Your cheek is dirty. Your mother ought to wash you more."
His ten-year-old daughter looked up at him with her inscrutable face. She neither smiled nor frowned nor anything at all. Like a cat, her eyes just stared into his face, as if she knew what lay behind his eyes. He felt a rush of guilt, knowing that he had decided to leave. Damn this girl for her silence, for her seeing eyes.
"Enough of that," he said to her. "What's for supper?"
"Isn't ready yet."
"Of course it isn't, girl; I'm home early, do you think I don't know that?" He was ashamed to be annoyed, yet could not curb either the annoyance or the shame. "Why aren't you in school?"
She said nothing, only looked at him. Of course he remembered why. The girls were sent home earlier than the boys. But she could make a civil answer, couldn't she? He wanted to shake her. Answer me, damn you. What are you thinking? Speak, child, or I'll know the devil's in you. But he knew from experience that nothing would get words from this child unless she felt the need to speak. Her school uniform was frayed, faded, and too small. Not my fault. It was my father who gambled it all away. It's not my fault for my father's sins.
He brushed past his lithe daughter and entered the cottage. Onions were strong in the air. That meant no meat tonight, so there were onions to give some flavor to the potatoes. The endless potatoes, poor man's food. Filthy Papist Irishman's food. John resented the potatoes without letting himself draw a connection between the low wages he brought home and the hours he spent away from the shop to play with a paintbrush that earned no money.
"Anna," he said. Anna was surprised to see him home. Well, be surprised if you like, Anna. Life is rude shocks, Anna, and the rudest of all is the shock of learning where you must live your life, and that you may never leave that place. But I will leave.
"Are you ill, to be home early?"
He shook his head. "Only tired."
He ignored the frown on Anna's forehead. Only tired. His own words were an accusation: she was also tired, but where could she go to escape from her work?
Charlie came down the stairs, a book under his arm. He was small for seven years old, but bright and eager. Was I bright and eager at seven? John did not think so. He had been a moody child, had grown to be a melancholy man. Brightness was Anna's manner, and Charlie was Anna's boy. "Papa, are you ill?"
Again no. "I just couldn't bear the shop any longer, and old Martin couldn't bear me, and so we agreed to part company." He saw Anna's eyes go wide with fear. "Only for the afternoon, Anna. I haven't lost my place." He spoke snidely, angrily; how dare she care about his place when she didn't give a damn about his soul. Fine with you if your husband never achieves what he was born to do, just so he brings home money. Never mind how the earning of it ruins him.
She clattered the spoons on the table; she was angry that he had spoken so sharply to her. It was unfair, and he was sorry. "You should have been the man, Anna," he said mildly. "You'd be rich by now."
"And you'd look fine in a fancy gown, John," she said, smiling at him. Again he felt contempt for her, for being so changeable of mood. When he was sad, he stayed quite glum all day; another sign of the weakness of women, that they could not hold a humour.
Charlie came to his mother and began reciting. The sound of it throbbed in John's head; he would have left, but his languor sank him deep into the chair and he could not move.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Wretched boy. Miserable boy. Your mother's son to the core. Read read read. Recite it once, recite it twice until all the family can say the words along with you. And the boy's worst habit was to get well into a piece he had done a hundred times and then stop, leaving the last few lines to hammer endlessly through his father's head.
"Born but to die, and reasoning but to err."
What sort of miserable stuff is Anna teaching to the boy? Born but to die. Sounds downright Papist. Anna will have the children read, will have them go to school, whatever it costs, however it means that he must do his endless, meaningless toil and be content eating potatoes and onions, so the children can have their books. It's not as if the boy understood any of what he spouted. Ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta DUM ta-DUM.
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world.
Just as John was about to cry, aloud, about to run from the house begging for silence, for respite from the boy's rote wisdom, just then came Dinah's gentle hand on his forehead, stroking, calming. He did not open his eyes and look at her; did not speak to her, because she would not answer. He just slumped in his chair and let her gentle hands minister to his inward pain. His younger son might be unbearable, but his daughter had a good heart and a knack for kindness. Of course I won't go. How could anyone imagine I would leave here? They love me, they depend on me, I know my duty and I will not go.
Then Charlie began on Gray's Elegy, and John got up and left the room. Damn the inglorious Miltons. Would God they all were mute.
From the window of his upstairs room John Kirkham watched the street. No flower sellers here, no one crying "strawberries, raspberries, fresh and sweet!" The venders were wise enough to know there was no money here. But once John had known their cries. Hadn't his father had a house in the country and a house in town? Hadn't all sorts of people come to visit them? The man who did the family portrait when John was only five — the man with the paints, who made a mirror image of the family that did not disappear when you walked away from it — ah, the miracle of it, and so I learned to paint. My father encouraged me: the rich should have some pleasant way to pass their time, he said. How are the mighty fallen. The old man died with three mortgages on the house and enough gambling debts to obliterate a much larger fortune. First the house had gone, then the country estate, then even the store they had bought, leaving only what he could earn in menial labor, all because his father loved the excitement of the gaming tables.
My father left me ruin. What will I leave my son?
My son. Only one son, of course, and there he was on the street below, walking home. Robert, thirteen years old now, and showing signs of growing tall; lanky, with hands already large and manly; only the effeminate books his mother forced him to carry to and from the school, only the books marred him. Oh, Robert, you are beautiful, you are my only hope, I will leave you more than debts and bitter memories.
Robert looked up at his father, raised his hand, and waved. I will not go. How could I leave my son?
He looked away from the window to the paintings on the walls. Wretched trash, all of them; only hours after he finished each one he had begun to notice the flaws, how the sheep were in the wrong place, how the shepherd was too much in the foreground, how the hills were not distant enough, how the trees looked like a drawing and not like the real thing. He had modeled them from nature, but his image wasn't true. I have no control, he said silently. I have no restraint. And he thought of the lovely woman by the brook. Her smile made him kiss her, her lips made him caress her, her breasts made him bear her to the meadow grass and take her, and all for the sake of his lack of self-restraint he now was trapped in this cottage with this woman and her reciting children and her achingly sweet body that was always eager for him, that never could be satisfied. You drain all my genius from me in your body at night, you thief, he accused her. And yet when she reached and touched him, he could not say no. Could never, never tell her no. She was much too strong for him. She went at loving as if she enjoyed it, which was certainly not proper and, he sometimes feared, not Christian.
It was deep in the night, and he lay awake in bed. He listened to her heavy breathing, slow in the dark beside him. He had tried, but nothing could satisfy her. He could hear the voice of God whispering, "John Kirkham, I put you on the earth to paint, and you did not paint. If you could have pulled away from that temptress the devil put in your path, you could have painted. It was your choice." And God cried out to a terrible angel standing in fire beside him, "Take the iron and put out his eyes!" The angel dipped the iron into the flames and came closer, closer.
John woke, the last sound of his scream ringing in the air. Anna was awake beside him, patting him. "A dream, John, that's all."
A dream. He had fallen asleep, on this of all nights. That's what Anna's body did to him. He twisted his head around to see the window — no light drifted in past the shutters, so he at least hadn't slept through all the hours of darkness. Anna kissed him, and the lips were like needles, so sharply did his cheek tingle. Then she rolled over, went back to sleep. He reached for her, touched the hair that spilled across the sheets, and he almost said, "Anna, I cannot leave you, not ever." But then the lump in his throat subsided, and his resolution returned, and he waited, sleepless, until her breaths were the breaths of sleep again.
He carefully arose and dressed. When he was ready, he pulled two boxes from under the bed, the one partly filled with money, the other filled to the brim with paints and brushes and papers.
He toyed with the idea of taking the whole moneybox — after all, hadn't he earned this money? Hadn't he as much need to eat as anyone, and far less idea of what he would live on once he got to London?
And then, ashamed, he thought of taking nothing, for surely they would need it all.
In the end, he carefully counted out three pounds and left the rest, sure that he was taking only a tiny portion of a rather large cache of money. He did not know that with the price of food rising, Anna had long since stopped saving money, and for months had been dipping into the savings under their bed. It would have made no difference. If he had known, it would have made him all the more certain he must leave.
Excerpted from Saints by Orson Scott Card. Copyright © 1984 Orson Scott Card. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Orson Scott Card, the New York Times best-selling author of Ender's Game, has won several Hugo and Nebula Awards for his works of speculative fiction. He lives with his family in Greensboro, North Carolina.
- Greensboro, North Carolina
- Date of Birth:
- August 24, 1951
- Place of Birth:
- Richland, Washington
- B.A. in theater, Brigham Young University, 1975; M.A. in English, University of Utah, 1981
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The experiences of Dinah Kirkham were the experiences of twenty thousand English people who left England behind to journey to the American frontier in hopes of building a Zion, a city of God. The trials of living in early Victorian England are a necessary background to understanding what the promise of Zion meant to these people, who became the ancestors of most of the Mormons of Utah 'the largest concentration of people of English descent in the United States according to the 2000 Census!'. Card does not prettify things. He gives you a feeling of the agony of English life among the poor to contrast the joys of life among the Mormons on the Mississippi border of Illinois in 1840, and then the oppression of the persecution that drove the Mormons across a thousand miles of wilderness to a sparsely inhabited oasis in the 'Great American Desert.' It is a novel of the human response to religious teachings, but not a catalog of Mormon doctrines. It is not intended to persuade you to follow Dinah Kirkham into the LDS Church, but to help you see why she herself valued it so highly, enough to sacrifice all of her prior life to embrace it and travel to an unknown land. There is a long tradition of lurid stories about Mormons, dating from Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet to Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage, that incorrectly depict Mormons as either deranged or in captivity. Those depictions are out of touch with the basic truth that Mormon membership has always been voluntary and many people have left it behind with no observable harm to their material well being. Few novelists have actually presented the real reasons that people made the choice to join the persecuted Mormons in a far off land. Card's novel can help you understand that.
Taking a break from science-fiction and fantasy, Card (himself an active Mormon) pens this superb book about a woman named Dinah Kirkham who converts to Mormonism in the mid 1800's. The story hooked me from the first page. Also, you don't need to be a Mormon to enjoy it. Nor do you need to worry about Mormon missionaries trying to convert you if you read it. By telling this story, Card deals with issues all religious people face every day.
I just read this book because of a fascination with the Mormons. I found it to be very good at telling a part of their history from personal points of view. It showed me how faithful their followers were to the doctrines of Joseph Smith, even when the church changes directions. I think the practice of polygamy is just as hard to wrap our minds around as the Trinity can be to non believers. As in the narrations, the author did a good job in trying to prepare for the coming trials and tribulations in their lives. To me, Dinah Kirkham was truly an inspirational woman who deserves to be a 'Saint'.
I found Orson Scott Card's book 'Saints' (also known as 'A Woman of Destiny') to be a poor sampling of LDS fiction. I have read many of Card's books and loved them, but I was very disappointed with this one. The first half of the book tells the story how Dinah Kirkman grew up in England and is VERY depressing. I continued to read the book with the hope that it would get better. It didn't! The story continues about Dinah's polygamous marriage to Joseph Smith then latter to Brigham Young. The story takes a very harsh view on Emma Smith, with her pushing Dinah down the stairs at one point which leads to Dinah's miscarriage of the prophet's son. The intimate relationships were too graphically described, everything from attempted rape to whore houses. Not an uplifting book at all!
The saga of 19th century Mormonism is THE great untold story in American history. World reknowned Shakespearan scholar and literary critic HAROLD BLOOM has predicted that at some future time great novels and plays will be written about this fascinating story; Bloom also believes that these great works will NOT be written by members of the LDS Church (Mormonism's largest denomination, headquarted in Utah)but by NON-LDS artists. Orson Scott Card is a novelists anmd deveout LDS apologist--and this 1983 novel indicates that Harold Bloom's prediction may be dead on. Card DOES go deeper into the origins of Mormon polygamy than most other LDS writers of fiction (most of whom ignore polygamy altogether and try to transform 19th century Mormon pioneers into wholesome white-bread All-American Christians from the suburbs)--but still Card sugar-coats things. In 1981 I was a student of Mr. Card's at BYU when he was finishing work on this novel. The story is inspired by the lives of two women: his great-great grandmother--and the famous Mormon pioneer prophetess and priestess, Eliza R. Snow. If one knows anything about the lives of Snow, Joseph Smith (Mormonism's founder) and other leading Mormons during the Nauvoo, Illinois period of Mormonism (the late 1830's thrugh the mid-1840's) one will instantly see that Card has taken great liberties with the facts--so much so that the characters of Joseph Smith, Emma Hale Smith (Joseph's first wife) and John C. Bennett (Joseph's second hand-man until he became his harshest critic) bear little resemblence to the real people revealed in private Mormon journals and letters of that period. Worst of all the character of Brigham Young is sentimentalized--transformed into a tough, salty but ultimately sweet old man. The last section of the novel--detailing the leading character's polygamous marriage to Young in their later years is sickeningly sweet and laughable if one knows anything about the REAL Brigham Young. Though Card goes further into Mormon history than other LDS fiction writers, his wish to write apologia for the LDS Church undermines his artistic impulse. In the end, this novel does NOT do it historical subject matter justice.