“The Mother Church: Mary Baker Eddy and the Practice of Sentimentalism”
Stokes, Claudia. “The Mother Church: Mary Baker Eddy and the Practice of Sentimentalism,” Pages 181–216 in The Altar at Home: Sentimental Literature and Nineteenth-Century American Religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2014.
Stokes argues that Mary Baker Eddy’s human story resembles the familiar plot line of American literary sentimentalism of the 19th century (439), but she cautions that such sentimental narratives were not as emotionally overwrought as critics have charged. Sentimentalism did not merely trace tragedies but offered readers a protocol for managing agony and loss (441). For example, “sentimental literature constituted Christian piety as fundamentally incompatible with the glorification of the body” (443) and that the “overvaluation of the corporeal at the expense of the spiritual was responsible for suffering and that spiritual enlightenment alone offered relief from worldly anguish” (444). However, Stokes’s alignment of Mary Baker Eddy with the Virgin Mary (455) directly contradicts Eddy’s statements about herself from Science and Health (see 29, 313, 534). From her Roman Catholic hermeneutic, Stokes claims Eddy apotheosized herself in sentimentalist context, but there is no such evidence in Eddy’s own writings or teachings (461). This chapter is also available as an article in The New England Quarterly 81, no. 3 (September 2008): 438–61.