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Desire and Duty at Oneida: Tirzah Miller's Intimate Memoir Hardcover – April 1, 2000
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Tirzah Miller is the niece (and lover) of community founder John Humphrey Noyes and has access to the real inner circle of community leadership. You follow her various lovers (the marriage had 200 members and they practiced a form of 'complex' marriage that left Tirzah with MANY suitors) and the trials and tribulations of her love life in intimate detail. There are curious omissions in the memoir (which Fogarty points out in his thorough introduction)-- she doesn't chronicle the birth of her first child George (the offspring of one of her other uncles, born without the sanction of marriage leader Noyes) nor the death of the father of George's father (George, Sr. dies before the baby is born). You are not sure whether this was an omission on Tirzah's part or an omission made by the descendents who released the memoir to the public (more likely it was the descedents given Tirzah's candid style). And there are several gaps in the journal where Tirzah was working on the community newsletter and stopped writing. These omissions frustrate the reader a little, but obviously there is nothing Fogarty can do about it, except speculate on the reasons behind the omissions in the introduction and provide missing background info which compensates somewhat.
The material that Tirzah did choose to write about is both poignant and sensational! Not only was her uncle an avid promoter of incestuous relationships (he felt the devil was behind social mores prohibiting this), but she chronicles several other outlandish suggestions John Humphrey Noyes makes for improving the community sex life (like, live sex acts performed during the religious meetings- a plan he never actually implemented). But the real heart of the journal comes from her painful experiences falling in love with and losing the love of her life due to strict community criticism of 'special love' relationships. It is heart-breaking to see her turn her back on a man she loves, teach their child to revile him and public renounce him all for the sake of her uncle's rather un-natural influence over her.
By the end of the book you feel as if you have been introduced to and become the intimate acquaintance of a remarkable historical figure. Tirzah's memoir is basically the story of a modern woman (she had a job, serial lovers, daycare, short hair and wore a unique trouser outfit) only, shockingly, she lived in the civil war era. A must read for feminist history enthusiasts!
Tirzah Miller was involved in this sort of breeding, and writes about her participation. Her memoir tells about her doubts about Noyes, doubts which were always soothed by prayer so that she continued within the community. She was Noyes's favorite sexual partner, but had longings for others, and acted on them. Among the difficulties this caused was that there must not be any sort of "special love" analogous to marriage. Miller writes quite a bit about how she has to avoid this, and about her quarrels with Noyes, and about her liaisons with other community members.
Miller's memoir breaks off during the tumultuous end of the community. There had been raids on Oneida by ministers from the outside, shocked at its peculiar principles, but also Oneida was racked with internal dissention as members strove for more independence. Noyes declared that traditional Pauline marriage was now to be advised, and before the community broke up, Miller was able to abandon her worry that her love for the father of her third child was "too special;" she married him exclusively, and lived thereafter in apparent happiness. Her memoir is good reading to reveal a lively, thoughtful, and reverent woman, and throws welcome light on the innermost workings of a famous, failed social experiment.