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

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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, revealing an age in subtle and powerful transformation, caug 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, revealing an age in subtle and powerful transformation, caught between the fight for women's rights and the campaign waged by evangelical Protestants to dominate the nation's culture and politics. At its center--and the center of a love triangle--Martha Parker, a gifted young New England woman, smart, pretty, ambitious, determined to make the most of her opportunities, aspiring to become an educator and a foreign missionary. Late in 1825, Martha accepted a proposal from a schoolmaster, Thomas Tenney, only to reject him several weeks later for a rival suitor, a clergyman headed for the mission field, Elnathan Gridley. Tenney's male friends, deeply resentful of the new prominence of women in academies, benevolent and reform associations, and the mission field, decided to retaliate on Tenney's behalf by sending an anonymous letter to the head of the foreign missions board impugning Martha's character. Tenney further threatened Martha with revealing even more about their relationship, thereby ruining her future prospects as a missionary. The head of the board began an inquiry into the truth of the claims about Martha, and in so doing, collected letters, diaries, depositions, and firsthand witness accounts of Martha's character. The ruin of Martha Parker's hopes provoked a resistance within evangelical ranks over womanhood, manhood, and, surprisingly, homosexuality, ultimately threatening to destroy the foreign missions enterprise.


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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, revealing an age in subtle and powerful transformation, caug 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, revealing an age in subtle and powerful transformation, caught between the fight for women's rights and the campaign waged by evangelical Protestants to dominate the nation's culture and politics. At its center--and the center of a love triangle--Martha Parker, a gifted young New England woman, smart, pretty, ambitious, determined to make the most of her opportunities, aspiring to become an educator and a foreign missionary. Late in 1825, Martha accepted a proposal from a schoolmaster, Thomas Tenney, only to reject him several weeks later for a rival suitor, a clergyman headed for the mission field, Elnathan Gridley. Tenney's male friends, deeply resentful of the new prominence of women in academies, benevolent and reform associations, and the mission field, decided to retaliate on Tenney's behalf by sending an anonymous letter to the head of the foreign missions board impugning Martha's character. Tenney further threatened Martha with revealing even more about their relationship, thereby ruining her future prospects as a missionary. The head of the board began an inquiry into the truth of the claims about Martha, and in so doing, collected letters, diaries, depositions, and firsthand witness accounts of Martha's character. The ruin of Martha Parker's hopes provoked a resistance within evangelical ranks over womanhood, manhood, and, surprisingly, homosexuality, ultimately threatening to destroy the foreign missions enterprise.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dee Arr

    There are those who might describe this book as dry and unexciting. I found the tale of Martha Parker and the men who pursued her riveting. Martha Parker agreed to marry Thomas Tenney, then rescinded her acceptance and accepted an offer of marriage to Elnathan Gridley. Along the way she also courted the feelings of Elisha Jenney. In today’s world hardly anyone would take notice of this behavior. In the early 19th century, Martha Parker’s behavior created a firestorm. Author Christine Leigh Heyrma There are those who might describe this book as dry and unexciting. I found the tale of Martha Parker and the men who pursued her riveting. Martha Parker agreed to marry Thomas Tenney, then rescinded her acceptance and accepted an offer of marriage to Elnathan Gridley. Along the way she also courted the feelings of Elisha Jenney. In today’s world hardly anyone would take notice of this behavior. In the early 19th century, Martha Parker’s behavior created a firestorm. Author Christine Leigh Heyrman explains the workings of this world, deeply entwined with the precedence of the past and the religious ties that bound followers to a promise of marriage. As Ms. Heyrman describes it, “…following the way of duty caused men and women to have the proper feelings – to feel as they ought. How strange to us in the present, this lost world of ironclad commitments and unacceptable emotions.” The author does a credible job of removing that strangeness, deftly walking the reader through a world that for most does not exist in the present. Ms. Heyrman also does not merely report what most might say about this story. Rather, she takes us by the hand and allows us to peer over her shoulder as she dissects the actions of the main and secondary characters, attempting to decipher their emotions and subsequent actions. I found fascinating this role the author chose, acting as much as a historical detective more than a mere biographer. This decision breathed life into what could have been a stodgy old tale of something that happened two hundred years ago. Instead, “Doomed Romance” becomes every bit as interesting as a well-written movie. If digging through the nuances of the past to discover the truth about what really happened, this is a book for you. Along with a true story describing the actions of multiple characters, readers will gain a deep understanding of a world that time has left behind. Highly recommended. Five stars. My thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for an complimentary electronic copy of this title.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica - How Jessica Reads

    This was a very interesting history of early Evangelicalism in 19th century America. It focuses on a love triangle created when Martha Parker broke off her engagement to Thomas Tenney and rapidly became engaged to Elnathan Gridley, a missionary bound for Palestine. Martha was essentially sued for breach of contract by Tenney, creating a scandalous furor in the Evangelical community. I was so intrigued to find out that prior to 1830 women were allowed to play a significant part in the church and This was a very interesting history of early Evangelicalism in 19th century America. It focuses on a love triangle created when Martha Parker broke off her engagement to Thomas Tenney and rapidly became engaged to Elnathan Gridley, a missionary bound for Palestine. Martha was essentially sued for breach of contract by Tenney, creating a scandalous furor in the Evangelical community. I was so intrigued to find out that prior to 1830 women were allowed to play a significant part in the church and in revivals, but in the 1830s the churches tightened their rules about the roles of women. Especially given the way the word 'Evangelical' is essentially just a political term now, it's interesting to read about the beginning of the movement, and how much more open it was to women and even same-sex relationships in its early days. ETA: Full review was published for Shelf Awareness. Find the full review here

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    This true story took place in the first half of the 1800s. It's a story about the politics among American church leaders, the missions board, and young hopeful missionaries. Mostly it's about a moment in time when women were ascending, finding alternative life-styles through marriage to missionaries, discovering their own strengths in roles beyond "a woman's place." Here's the story of one beautiful young woman, Martha Parker, who had more than one choice for a life partner. Her moment of indeci This true story took place in the first half of the 1800s. It's a story about the politics among American church leaders, the missions board, and young hopeful missionaries. Mostly it's about a moment in time when women were ascending, finding alternative life-styles through marriage to missionaries, discovering their own strengths in roles beyond "a woman's place." Here's the story of one beautiful young woman, Martha Parker, who had more than one choice for a life partner. Her moment of indecision cost her her reputation and her opportunity to become a missionary. All the politics and scandal and misogyny behind this loss is laid out in this story. A quote from the final pages of the book provides a good summary: "...the record so carefully compiled about Martha Parker brings into the light what usually stays hidden in the shadows of the past and often remains concealed even in the present: the social networks mobilized and the cultural weapons marshaled to cut women down to size. Centuries before the invention of social media, conservative evangelicals dabbled in the dark art of character assassination with anonymous letters and gossip, threats and blackmail, the promise of punishment in this life and the next. That makes them no worse than many other Americans, then and now. The difference is that as their protean movement first gathered force in the early nineteenth century, evangelicals seemed poised to offer women a world of new possibilities. By breaking faith with that promise, their most progressive leaders abandoned their movement's fundamental principles. That betrayal continues into the present among those believers who resist reckoning with or even acknowledging evangelicalism's rich and complicated historical legacy with respect to sexual politics and sexuality." I enjoyed reading this book because my own upbringing in some ways was still full of conflicting messages about what I was "fit" to do and be. My own ambitions were not necessarily considered appropriate. I grew up believing I had to hitch my life to a rising star in order to partake in the greater adventures within my family's church--not be the rising star myself. It's enlightening to me and also distressing to observe that this has been a long haul for American women within religious organizations. It's a slow read, not necessarily riveting but certainly compelling. Well done and thank you Christine Leigh Heyrman.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Did you hear the hot gossip about Martha Parker? There's something about gossip that just captivates people. Take this book, for instance. Author Christine Leigh Heyrman came across this intriguing story while reading through missionaries' correspondence from the early 19th century: a love triangle of sorts between Martha Parker and two men vying for her hand in marriage. But it's also a lot more than that. In fact, it's not even a love triangle, but a love square. "Doomed Romance" gives us a deta Did you hear the hot gossip about Martha Parker? There's something about gossip that just captivates people. Take this book, for instance. Author Christine Leigh Heyrman came across this intriguing story while reading through missionaries' correspondence from the early 19th century: a love triangle of sorts between Martha Parker and two men vying for her hand in marriage. But it's also a lot more than that. In fact, it's not even a love triangle, but a love square. "Doomed Romance" gives us a detailed, page-turning account of how a young woman named Martha Parker found herself the subject of a formal review by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (i.e. the board that deployed Evangelical Christian missionaries across the world). The short of it is, Martha was a well-educated woman, newly converted to her faith, and eager to start a life abroad. Missions, as Heyrman explains, were a whole new gateway for women to travel beyond their role in the household. Young evangelical girls could be educated alongside their male peers. As adults, they could draw maps, teach, fundraise for the Board, and even go abroad to proselytize (often--but not necessarily--as the wife of a fellow missionary). And our young Martha was all set to marry a wealthy, high-achieving suitor and set sail for the Mediterranean when, out of the wood works, an anonymous letter denounced Martha to the Board as unworthy of serving as a missionary. The drama begins there. As the story develops, Heyrman gives us incredible insight into the case, its players, and the inner politics of the Mission Board through letters and other primary sources. I was increasingly surprised by revelations about 19th century evangelical ideas on love, marriage, education, slavery, and the removal of Native Americans from their lands. In some ways, it's inspiring, even if the backlash some of these issues inspired is a little dispiriting as well. Overall, "Doomed Romance" is a fantastic (and gripping) account of Martha Parker's fate at the hands of two camps disagreeing about what exactly should be the future of the Evangelical Mission movement (and where women should fit into it). What can I say? Scandalous stories are difficult to put down. Recommended for enthusiasts of American history, particularly if you're interested in feminism and the impact the Evangelical church on social mores in the first half of the 19th century. This is the period that eventually paved the way to Seneca Falls. Thank you to Netgalley and Knopf for granting me a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vivienne

    Someone give Shonda Rhimes a copy of this book. I had no idea 19th century evangelicals were so modern. In one anecdote a proper young lady ran into a preacher's office pretending to be a nun pursued by a mob just to prove a point. Young ladies being expected to work before marriage. Adventure abroad!....if you qualify. Someone give Shonda Rhimes a copy of this book. I had no idea 19th century evangelicals were so modern. In one anecdote a proper young lady ran into a preacher's office pretending to be a nun pursued by a mob just to prove a point. Young ladies being expected to work before marriage. Adventure abroad!....if you qualify.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Burd

    This book was so rich. I am not super interested, generally, in the first half of the 1800s; as someone who teaches the period to high schoolers, I felt I had a general command of the period. Heyrman reminds me, reminds us, that there is FAR more that we don’t know about this time than what we do. The archive that she pores over, and the masterfully engaging tone with which she writes, exploded my vision of New England evangelicalism (and its trickle down to today). It helped me to see afresh th This book was so rich. I am not super interested, generally, in the first half of the 1800s; as someone who teaches the period to high schoolers, I felt I had a general command of the period. Heyrman reminds me, reminds us, that there is FAR more that we don’t know about this time than what we do. The archive that she pores over, and the masterfully engaging tone with which she writes, exploded my vision of New England evangelicalism (and its trickle down to today). It helped me to see afresh the religious history of which I’ve been very much a part in my lifetime, and to see the richness and diversity of a religious-cultural narrative that I’ve felt to be so but which so much of my own history instruction (and media regurgitation) has presented as monolithic. I’m thankful for this exploration of the emotional and popular complexity of the past— for the way that it reminds me, too, that individuals and institutions interrelate and shape one another in complex ways. Minus one point because, well, it has the bad taste to not be historical fiction. This would make SUCH a good movie.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa (V.C.)

    This is one of those books where you'd never think you'd need to read it but the unique and unusual tale of Martha Parker and the two men who fall in love with her resulting in a love triangle for the ages is not one to miss! Admittedly, some aspects of the book can be dry, boring, and slow to read, but when the author's accessible and breezy prose really starts kicking in, is when Doomed Romance shines. It may not be for everyone's taste or interest level, but my goodness, the scandal of it all This is one of those books where you'd never think you'd need to read it but the unique and unusual tale of Martha Parker and the two men who fall in love with her resulting in a love triangle for the ages is not one to miss! Admittedly, some aspects of the book can be dry, boring, and slow to read, but when the author's accessible and breezy prose really starts kicking in, is when Doomed Romance shines. It may not be for everyone's taste or interest level, but my goodness, the scandal of it all!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

    The title may promise more titillation than its 1820s romances deliver, but Heyrman has crafted a very fine book, much more than the story of a romantic triangle. Since this is a HISTORY book as much as it is a romance, some readers may find portions of the book tedious. Not me. The author writes very well and her droll (sometimes tart) wit more than compensates for any deceleration of the story line. Heyrman's personality is a prominent character is this book too, and I was certainly happy to a The title may promise more titillation than its 1820s romances deliver, but Heyrman has crafted a very fine book, much more than the story of a romantic triangle. Since this is a HISTORY book as much as it is a romance, some readers may find portions of the book tedious. Not me. The author writes very well and her droll (sometimes tart) wit more than compensates for any deceleration of the story line. Heyrman's personality is a prominent character is this book too, and I was certainly happy to accompany her through this story.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lorri Steinbacher

    There was hot gossip even in the eighteenth century with no internet. Martha Parker--was she an innocent victim or playing both sides or just doing what she had to do to ensure some kind of future for herself. The only way women could better themselves was through marriage, and the marriage you chose determined your path, yet women were supposed to be humble and submissive. A losing proposition all the way around.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah

    There were some interesting reflections on the role of beatification of missionaries in the 19th century and the impact that had on Evangelicalism in the 20th and 21st century, including the link between Victorian and Evangelical sexuality. The author struggled to parse out the letters, relationships between Martha and the myriad of men, and the ways that church/academic leaders interfered with these relationships in the middle/end of the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Primer

    True story of tangled scandalous love in early 19th century New England evangelical society. Well researched and engagingly written but I was confused more than once by the large cast of real life characters, which I admit may have been my fault. So many Marys, Thomases and Johns!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Shepherd

    This was a fascinating true story! The author did a good job of balancing narrative with contextual analysis. I just wish they acknowledged more the problematic nature of missionaries especially in the early 19th century.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Martin

    3.5 audible

  14. 4 out of 5

    Loren Shultz

    Interesting story told with tedious detail

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy Lutzke

    Interesting story fairly well written for a general population.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sujata

    I def learned some stuff but this wasn’t that emanating

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Yawn. I'm sorry I really really wanted to be sucked into this book and feel the story but alas I did not. Yawn. I'm sorry I really really wanted to be sucked into this book and feel the story but alas I did not.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    "It was keeping within a narrow compass - avoiding any behavior that bespoke self-esteem and ambition - that endowed women with sanctity and ensured their safety, granted them their special powers and privileges as a sex. To stray outside those bounds would compromise them both socially and spiritually." This story of a real-life scandal from 1829 was unpacked investigative journalism-style from letters found by Christine Leigh Heyrman during her research on missionaries of the early evangelical "It was keeping within a narrow compass - avoiding any behavior that bespoke self-esteem and ambition - that endowed women with sanctity and ensured their safety, granted them their special powers and privileges as a sex. To stray outside those bounds would compromise them both socially and spiritually." This story of a real-life scandal from 1829 was unpacked investigative journalism-style from letters found by Christine Leigh Heyrman during her research on missionaries of the early evangelical church. The story of young, ambitious Martha Parker and the men who loved her is used as an example of the shifts in the early years of the new religious movement. The book starts off a bit slow, with many characters introduced who all seem the same, but as the story comes into play, it was a fascinating tale of a woman using the resources available to her to try to make a name for herself, and how the men around her responded. 2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge - A book with fewer than 1,000 reviews on Amazon or GoodReads

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paula Moreshead

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  22. 4 out of 5

    zale

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

  24. 4 out of 5

    Theo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

  26. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

  27. 4 out of 5

    Luke Cabot

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  29. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan Cortes

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katie Reilly

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