Healing the Nation: Literature, Progress, and Christian Science

Healing the Nation: Literature, Progress, and Christian Science

Healing the Nation: Literature, Progress, and Christian Science

Healing the Nation: Literature, Progress, and Christian Science

Synopsis

Exploring the surprising presence of Christian Science in American literature at the turn of the 20th century, L. Ashley Squires reveals the rich and complex connections between religion and literature in American culture. Mary Baker Eddy's Church of Christ, Scientist was one of the fastest growing and most controversial religious movements in the United States, and it is no accident that its influence touched the lives and work of many American writers, including Frances Hodgson Burnett, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and Mark Twain. Squires focuses on personal stories of sickness and healing--whether supportive or deeply critical of Christian Science's recommendations --penned in a moment when the struggle between religion and science framed debates about how the United States was to become a modern nation. As outsized personalities and outlandish rhetoric took to the stage, Squires examines how the poorly understood Christian Science movement contributed to popular narratives about how to heal the nation and advance the cause of human progress.

Excerpt

Since 2010, American actor Val Kilmer has toured the United States performing one-man shows in the character of Mark Twain. Bedecked in a white suit and disheveled wig, he portrays the familiar Sam Clemens of the turn of the century—curmudgeonly, lethally clever, skeptical of everything, and wrestling with his legacy as an author. Less familiar to audiences is the Clemens who was also deep in the throes of a vitriolic obsession with Mary Baker Eddy, the venerable leader of a growing religious movement called Christian Science. Kilmer’s Twain is the man who had lost his daughter, a Christian Scientist, and his wife, a dabbler in various sectarian medical theories. He is also a writer whose preoccupation with Eddy exploded into print in a series of articles, a book-length screed published in 1907 as Christian Science, and lengthy correspondences with Eddy’s friends and enemies, including one woman who claimed to have conceived her son, named Prince of Peace, through parthenogenesis. This is a Clemens who, at an earlier time, had written an article called “Mental Telegraphy,” espousing the theory that minds could influence one another at a distance—a central principle in Christian Science—and was ignoring his memoirs while writing a never-to-be-finished story called “The Secret History of Eddypus, the World-Empire,” conceived as a sequel of sorts to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Though entertaining in their own right, Kilmer’s performances are part of an independent film project that has been gestating since 2002, an historical epic depicting the contrasting lives of two towering figures of fin de . . .

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