Fifty years have passed since Fawn Brodie published a biography of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith titled "No Man Knows My History."
Brodie was excommunicated from the church in 1946 because of the book, which is still a favored reference tool for critics of the church and its history.Praise and criticism for Brodie's biography of Joseph Smith has seasoned over the past 50 years, giving academics enough fodder for a daylong Fawn Brodie symposium at the University of Utah Thursday.
The symposium and an evening panel presentation also fed the opening of the 17th Sunstone Symposium, which continues at the Salt Lake Hilton through Saturday.
Of particular interest to scholars is Brodie's use of psychoanalysis in her biographies, which also include works on Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon.
"All of her biographies contain analyses obtained by psychoanalysis," said USC history professor Mauricio Mazon, who was a student of Brodie's during her tenure as a professor at UCLA.
Mazon said he always felt awed by Brodie's presence and said she insisted on not parading her clinical knowledge. Underneath Brodie's text on Joseph Smith are "a number of analytical assumptions," more muted in her writing than in her biographies of Jefferson and Nixon, he said.
Lavina Fielding Anderson, editor of the "Journal of Mormon History," offered a critique of Brodie's literary style, suggesting Brodie also used her literary skill to draw readers into becoming part of her psychoanalysis of Joseph Smith rather than merely observing it.
Anderson also questioned why the biographer built such an extensive analysis of Joseph Smith while making only simple observations of the Mormon prophet's wife Emma Smith, concluding Brodie is "not a trustworthy guide to her subject because of the technique."
Brodie was also assailed for not reviewing Joseph Smith's diaries and other original manuscripts when building her biography.
Emeritus University of Utah philosophy professor Sterling M. McMurrin characterized Brodie's work as a "watershed, in a sense, of the treatment of Mormon history," and put her outside the categories of previous writers who he characterized as either being apologists for or enemies of the church.
McMurrin called "No Man Knows My History" a remarkable work though not immune to criticism. "It produced a remarkable result - a crop of historians such as the church had not had before."
Several of Thursday's Brodie panelists are scheduled to make additional presentations during the Sunstone symposium.