She Glanceth from Earth to Heaven: The Phenomenon of Love Mysticism among Women in Antebellum Virginia and Maryland
Kellison, Kimberly R., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
She Glanceth from Earth to Heaven: The Phenomenon of Love Mysticism Among Women in Antebellum Virginia and Maryland. By LAURA HOBGOOD-OSTER. New Orleans: University Press of the South, 1998. ix, 199 pp. $49.95.
LAURA HOBGOOD-OSTER'S She Glanceth from Earth to Heaven: The Phenomenon of Love Mysticism Among Women in Antebellum Virginia and Maryland explores the effects of love mysticism on the lives of three evangelical women living in the Upper South between 1820 and 1850. Judith Lomax, Caroline Homassel Thornton, and Letitia Grace McCurdy came from wealthy families, although two of the three women experienced serious financial problems during their lifetimes. Thornton and McCurdy married, while Lomax remained single. A strong belief in evangelical Christianity united these women, and as part of her religious conviction each kept a "Sabbath journal," a diary revealing each woman's innermost emotions toward God (p. 12). The professions of love found in these journals, Hobgood-Oster shows, extended beyond old-fashioned praise and adoration. So enamored with their Savior did Lomax, Thornton, and McCurdy become that they entered into a "mystical" union with the divine, one in which they transformed themselves into sexual and physical mates of Christ. Viewing themselves as literal spouses of God provided these evangelicals a sense of power and selfunderstanding that enabled them to assume greater leadership roles in the religious community. Although recognizing that their gender permitted them only certain privileges in the southern evangelical church, an understanding of their spiritual roles allowed Lomax, Thornton, and McCurdy to "rise above the gender identities of the world to new subjectivities" (p. 170).
In recent years historians have made important strides in exploring the fundamental ways religious experience affected American women. Hobgood-Oster's work adds to that body of research by suggesting that evangelical experience in the Old South may have been more complex and nuanced than previously documented. Yet this work raises more questions than it answers. The most serious problem with Hobgood-Oster's hypothesis-that through love mysticism evangelical women fashioned a new sense of self-arises from the limited scope of her study. …