Writing New England: An Anthology from the Puritans to the Present

Writing New England: An Anthology from the Puritans to the Present

by Andrew Delbanco

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The story of New England writing begins some 400 years ago, when a group of English Puritans crossed the Atlantic believing that God had appointed them to bring light and truth to the New World. Over the centuries since, the people of New England have produced one of the great literary traditions of the world--an outpouring of poetry, fiction, history, memoirs,… See more details below


The story of New England writing begins some 400 years ago, when a group of English Puritans crossed the Atlantic believing that God had appointed them to bring light and truth to the New World. Over the centuries since, the people of New England have produced one of the great literary traditions of the world--an outpouring of poetry, fiction, history, memoirs, letters, and essays that records how the original dream of a godly commonwealth has been both sustained and transformed into a modern secular culture enriched by people of many backgrounds and convictions.

Writing New England, edited by the literary scholar and critic Andrew Delbanco, is the most comprehensive anthology of this tradition, offering a full range of thought and style. The major figures of New England literature--from John Winthrop and Anne Bradstreet to Emerson, Hawthorne, Dickinson, and Thoreau, to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and John Updike--are of course represented, often with fresh and less familiar selections from their works. But Writing New England also samples a wide range of writings including Puritan sermons, court records from the Salem witch trials, Felix Frankfurter's account of the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, William Apess's eulogy for the Native American King Philip, pamphlets and poems of the Revolution and the Civil War, natural history, autobiographical writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and Malcolm X, Mary Antin's account of the immigrant experience, John F. Kennedy's broadcast address on civil rights, and A. Bartlett Giamatti's memoir of a Red Sox fan.

Organized thematically, this anthology provides a collective self-portrait of the New England mind. With an introductory essay on the origins of New England, a detailed chronology, and explanatory headnotes for each selection, the book is a welcoming introduction to a great American literary tradition and a treasury of vivid writing that defines what it has meant, over nearly four centuries, to be a New Englander.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite the proliferation of regional studies, particularly of the American South, there are relatively few collections of or studies about New England writing. Perhaps it's because New England was the original region. Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry James are not generally considered New Englanders so much as Americans. Delbanco, a renowned scholar of the Puritan experience in America (author of The Puritan Ordeal), wants to call attention to the fact that these writers were not simply from New England but of it. In this beautifully conceived collection, Delbanco has interspersed with unchallenged figures such as Thoreau and Hawthorne a few pieces that have been all but lost to the general reading public. William Apess, for example, is represented by an excerpt from his 1836 Eulogy on King Philip, chastising white for dispossessing Native Americans. Apess was a New Englander of Indian descent who became a Methodist preacher and eventually joined the Mashpee Indians on Cape Cod, leading a rebellion against their white overseers: "And while you ask yourselves, 'What do they, the Indians, want?' you have only to look at the unjust laws made for them and say, 'They want what I want.' " In his introduction, Delbanco sounds the "keynote" of the original New England identity as "the throbbing heart of Christianity in the New World." As the new Eden did not fulfill itself, he concludes, New Englanders began an "inward turn toward self-admonition [which] is the hallmark of what Henry James called 'the New England conscience.' " This is an excellent gathering of letters, poems, stories, essays and excerpts from novels and histories. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners BusinessInformation.
Library Journal
Associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company for over 35 years, Barton leads a highly talented cast Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, David Suchet, Michael Pennington, and Jane Lapotaire, to name only a few in programs that discuss and workshop Shakespeare's verse, prose, sonnets, soliloquies, and set speeches. Divided into two sections, the first on the practical aspects of performing Shakespeare, the second on issues such as irony and passion, this volume comprehensively explores the nuances that help actors create rich characters for a modern audience. Not a quick read, this absorbingly detailed book dissects Shakespeare's work, demystifying and clarifying the heightened language in his writings by demonstrating common-sense and textual points that help an actor understand the roles and the qualities needed to play the parts with humanity and balance. Packed with examples, direction, and intelligent conversation, this book is recommended for actors, teachers, and students. Elizabeth Stifter, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Who and what made New England the nation's intellectual and literary center is apparent in this expansive collection of writings by the abiding masters and luminaries of the day. To illustrate the nuances of the "hope and disillusion, confidence and self-doubt" that inform the New England mind, Delbanco ("The Real American Dream", 1999, etc.) divides the selections into several sections. In each, writers explore the attitudes and characteristics that came to define the region: an ideal of justice, an intolerance of newcomers, and a "proprietary intimacy" with the land. Delbanco offers John Winthrop and Samuel Danforth as exemplars of the self-approbation behind "The Founding Idea." In the "Education" chapter, John McPhee describes the career of a Yankee schoolmaster, and an account is given of Harvard president Charles Eliot's restructuring of the American university. The New Englander's discontent with worldly imperfection is illustrated (in the "Dissident Dreamers" chapter) by the spectacle of John Quincy Adams arguing the "Amistad "case before the Supreme Court, and by A. Bartlett Giamatti's unquenchable faith in the Boston Red Sox. The collection contains some old chestnuts (such as Emerson's "Nature"), but it also has some real treats (such as the radio comedian Fred Allen's hilarious defense of his local paper, "The Cape Codder"). The abundance and sureness of the writing is comforting, as it intimates a limitlessness of New England creativity-but the paucity of contemporary contributions may suggest otherwise. The few living writers excerpted (e.g., John Updike, Geoffrey Wolff), compared to the feast of authors from the past, gives the collection an elegiac feel-and raises thequestion of whether today's mobile society can establish a regional literary heritage. For now, then, no matter. Read this for the writers-Alcott, O'Connor, Frost, Jewett-and if you tire of them, read 20 others. This is a smorgasbord; we are unlikely to see its kind again soon. (9 halftones, not seen)
Boston Globe
Now arrives the definitive New England reader, a book written for the New England booster, the New England admirer, and, of course, that character indigenous to these parts, the New England reader...[Andrew Delbanco's] luminous opening essay distills one of the great truths about great New England writing: It is produced by 'the sort of mind that, with an acute sense of its own fallibility, seeks moral knowledge in the wisdom literature of the past.' But Delbanco's greatest gift is his sense of judgment. He knows, for example, that it is impossible to understand New England...without a passing acquaintance with Henry David Thoreau, Henry Adams, Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow--and, lest we forget, Henry Beston. He knows, too, that there is a difference between choosing the best known and the best representative selection of a writer's work...One of the great New England virtues, besides a sense of the vanity of human wishes, is thrift, and here Delbanco has produced a metaphor of the region. There is not a page wasted in this volume, not an entry without a reason.
Handsomely produced...[and] imaginatively done...[This] anthology succeeds admirably in conveying, in Delbanco's words, "how New Englanders have come to live in different and distinct regions of cultural inheritance." It manages also, in its inclusions and rediscoveries, to extend Thoreau's remark in his "Ktaadn" section from The Maine Woods printed here: "I am reminded by my journey how exceedingly new this country still is."
Salem Evening News
Writing New England is a readable, usable, invaluable gift to readers of American literature and to those who appreciate the virtues of anthology...The literary landscape in New England is precious in its beauty; harsh in its honesty, and soaring in its genius. Merely by possessing this book we stake a claim in the bounty.
Concord Beacon
Readers concerned that a New England anthology of writing would slip into mawkish paeans to autumn and Yankee wisdom should know that Delbanco does not shy from the darker aspects of our region and its history...Delbanco's business, at least in book form, has always been America--its culture, history and literature: whether he is anthologizing Emerson, Lincoln or the Puritans, or writing about American religion...Delbanco ensures that the path between past and present remains open and well-trod.
There is nothing now in print quite like Writing New England. Three things make the book stand out: its enlargement of one's sense of the varieties of people who, over time, have inhabited New England; its insights into one region's contributions to the country at large; and its sheer readability. Strongly recommended.
Times Literary Supplement
Andrew Delbanco's attractive anthology, which offers a judicious selection of material, pertinent both for readers who are new to the writing of the region and for those who it well. As Delbanco explains in his preface, he has tried to keep the anthology in line with his conviction that New England itself includes "different and distinct regions of cultural inheritance." He also works hard to show how the continuities in New England writing are inflected differently by African-Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans, working-class Americans and American women, particularly when set along-side the classic texts produced by privileged white men. The anthology is wonderfully diverse.

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Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publication date:
Belknap Press Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.49(d)

Read an Excerpt

Long before the modern dogma took hold that early childhood experience determines adult character, Alexis de Tocqueville applied the idea to America. Convinced that the childhood of the United States was to be found in colonial New England, he wrote, "if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions which rule" the life of the mature man, "we must watch the infant in his mother's arms." Today, however, not many Americans—not even, perhaps, many New Englanders—feel that in observing the strict Protestants who emigrated to New England nearly four centuries ago they are watching their younger selves.

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