From the winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize in History, a lost episode rediscovered after almost two hundred years; a thwarted love triangle of heartbreak--two men and a woman of equal ambition--that exploded in scandal and investigation, set between America's Revolution and its Civil War.
Missions were [...] big business. Presiding over this great work from its headquarters in Boston’s Park Street Congregational Church was the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the largest corporation in the early republic ... And yet, in the mid-1820s, this religious juggernaut was nearly upended by a run-of-the-mill romantic triangle ... In Doomed Romance, Bancroft Prize-winning historian Christine Leigh Heyrman makes their story a window onto 19th-century middle-class evangelicalism, its sexual politics, and the hothouse atmosphere of small New England towns drenched in Calvinism. Relying on the parties’ own writings, Ms. Heyrman illustrates how they compulsively shared their inner lives, bridging the gap between the fixed idiom of evangelical spiritual narratives and the self-expression of romanticism. In this, Ms. Heyrman provides insight into what she calls the “lost emotional worlds of the past” while always recognizing just how distant that world is from our own. The book is a tour de force, meticulously researched, engaging, deeply humane and compulsively readable.
... Heyrman remorselessly dissects the fragile male selfhood at the heart of evangelical Protestantism and its 'vexed relationship with ideals of manhood.' Since the needs of that self are ever devouring the American body religious and politic, an exploration of its origins deserves attention ... reads like a bodice-ripper, less Bridgerton than Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Fewer push-up bras, plenty of smoldering letters ... deliciously relevant ... Mining missionary records, Heyrman unearths some astonishing revelations ... Elegantly written and hilariously astute, this gloriously indelicate history suggests that women’s infatuation with evangelicalism has been a bad romance indeed.
Heyrman plays up the drama with anachronistic, pop culture-inspired chapter titles ... Heyrman is serious, however, about the broader significance of her story ... Heyrman chronicles Martha’s panicked maneuvers to placate Thomas, reassure Elnathan, and satisfy the American Board’s doubts in a cliff-hanging style that gins up the tension but also muddles the chronology. And sometimes she takes her analysis a step further than seems warranted: It’s a stretch to compare Thomas’s actions with 'today’s ‘revenge porn' ... Doomed Romance has its faults, primarily a confusing structure and a weakness for overstatement, but Heyrman’s empathetic connection with her 19th-century characters—even those whose actions she deplores— makes for vivid and compelling history.