Doomed Romance: Broken Hearts, Lost Souls, and Sexual Tumult in Nineteenth-Century America

Knopf. Feb. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780525655572. $28.95. HIST
In 1825, the future of New England evangelical Martha Parker seemed bright. Young, educated, and enthusiastic in her faith, she planned to marry a prospective missionary and travel with him to Beirut to assist in his work. But an anonymous letter about Parker’s previous engagement to another man led the foreign missions board to investigate her character and fitness to be a missionary wife—and touched off a debate about the appropriateness of the board scrutinizing the lives of its female missionaries. Parker’s story and the resulting social conflict provides fertile ground for Heyrman (history, Univ. of Delaware) to explore issues of relationships, morality, and gendered behavior in the 19th-century Evangelical movement, and most particularly how the movement’s attraction of ambitious women and the attention given to notable female missionaries inevitably conflicted with its largely male leadership.
VERDICT Heyrman’s previous experience writing on this era of evangelicalism gives her a noted assurance in navigating the complexities of this incident, and she infuses what might have been a dry recounting of facts and dates with effective levels of tension and emotion, making this not only a valuable book for scholars of this subject area but also interesting for a more general audience.
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