Monday, September 14, 2009

116 (2009 #41). Shattered Dreams

by Irene Spencer

Subtitled "My Life as a Polygamist's Wife," this memoir is by and about the second of the ten wives of Verlan LeBaron, brother of the infamous polygamist Ervil LeBaron and niece of yet another polygamist leader, Rulon C. Allred. I read this book shortly after listening to The 19th Wife, partly because there was a chance I might be getting Spencer's other memoir, Cult Insanity, which is about her brother-in-law Ervil, to review.

Irene Spencer grew up in a fourth-generation polygamist family - her mother was the second of four wives and Irene was the 13th of 31 children. Her mother escaped polygamy and Irene fell in love with and wanted to marry a "nonbeliever." Pressure from other family members and her own religious beliefs led to her marrying her half-sister's husband Verlan when she was 16 years old.

Everything goes downhill from this marriage, performed secretly on the Mormon temple grounds in Salt Lake City, as today's mainstream Mormons don't practice polygamy. Her half-sister was present, as the previous wives have to agree to the husband's later marriage and one of them is expected to participate in the ceremony! It was July 1953, and later that month, a polygamous compound in Arizona was raided, so Verlan moved his two wives to the LeBaron family settlement in Mexico.

Irene spends most of the next 28 years in abject poverty, moving 25 times mostly in rural Mexico and even Nicaragua, and giving birth to 13 children in 19 years. Meanwhile, her husband goes on to marry eight more women (with Irene "giving" four of them in marriage) and father 58 children in all before his death in an auto wreck in 1981 at age 51 (which both Irene and Verlan apparently foresaw in dreams).

Irene is surprisingly equanimous about the poverty and many of the other hardships she endures, justifying them as part of the suffering she must undergo to be a "goddess" in the afterlife. She is extremely jealous of the time Verlan spends with any of his other wives, however, and obviously sexually frustrated. I had a hard time understanding how she could continue to love a man who apparently thought so little of her. I suspect she'd be married to him to this day if it hadn't been for his early death. The book could have done with some heavy editing to shorten its nearly 400 pages.

Nevertheless, this book provided some insight into how and why women get stuck in these kinds of relationships. Indeed, on her own website, Irene admits that three of her children (I'm hoping all sons and no daughters) are in polygamous relationships today. She and her children lived a life so isolated that one can see why some of the children got caught up in this lifestyle.

Interestingly, one of Irene's "sister-wives," Susan Ray Schmidt, has also written a memoir, called His Favorite Wife (which Irene agrees she was). More about Susan here, more about Irene here, and more about both of them here.

No comments:

Post a Comment