I wonder if Roy has seen the President. Aunt Winifred says she does not doubt it.
January 27, 2010 8:42 PM Subscribe
About 2% of the US population died while serving in the military during the US Civil War, roughly equivalent to about six million people today. A few years after the war the best selling book at 100,000 copies was Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
' The Gates Ajar
, which deals mainly with heaven and what exactly happens there. Spoilers follow.The Gates Ajar
is painfully (or perhaps bracingly) un-ironic. As befits a grieving era it opens by breaking the heart of its protagonist Mary Cabot with the battle death of her brother, leaving her without immediate family much like the author. Cabot's grief and rejection of conventional comfort are convincingly rendered. Cabot's Aunt Winifred shows up and the bulk of the book is a classic dialog with Aunt Winifred explaining what happens in heaven. Including the corporeality of heaven
, what happens to resurrected bodies
, what children do in heaven
and the physical location of heaven
. More exemplary tragedies are described for the edification of all involved.
According to James Hart's The Popular Book: A History
the success of The Gates Ajar
led not only to its three sequels (Beyond the Gates
, The Gates Between
and Within the Gates)
but also to a minor flowering of imitators lasting until the end of the 1870s "When memories of the Civil War dimmed, many Americans became aware the war had made them a powerful people, and subconsciously they found the religious novel and its first cousin , the domestic novel, too provincial for their tastes." Mark Twain's Captain Stormfeld's Visit to Heaven
was published in 1905, four years after the last of the Gates novels and is a parody of the genre.
This book was brought to my attention through Professor David Blights lectures on the The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877, available at Open Yale.