Design in Puritan American Literature

Overview

Puritan American writers faced a dilemma: they had an obligation to use language as a celebration of divine artistry, but they could not allow their writing to become an iconic graven image of authorial self-idolatry. In this study William Scheick explores one way in which William Bradford, Nathaniel Ward, Anne Bradstreet, Urian Oakes, Edward Taylor, and Jonathan Edwards mediated these conflicting imperatives. They did so, he argues, by creating moments in their works when they and their audience could hesitate ...
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Overview

Puritan American writers faced a dilemma: they had an obligation to use language as a celebration of divine artistry, but they could not allow their writing to become an iconic graven image of authorial self-idolatry. In this study William Scheick explores one way in which William Bradford, Nathaniel Ward, Anne Bradstreet, Urian Oakes, Edward Taylor, and Jonathan Edwards mediated these conflicting imperatives. They did so, he argues, by creating moments in their works when they and their audience could hesitate and contemplate the central paradox of language: its capacity to intimate both concealed authorial pride and latent deific design. These ambiguous occasions served Puritan writers as places where the threat of divine wrath and the promise of divine mercy intersected in unresolved tension. By the nineteenth century the heritage of this Christlike mingling of temporal connotation and eternal denotation had mutated. A peculiar late eighteenth-century narrative by Nathan Fiske and a short story by Edward Bellamy both suggest that the binary nature of language exploited by their Puritan ancestors was still a vital authorial concern; but neither of these writers affirms the presence of an eternal denotative signification hidden within the conflicting historical contexts of their apparently allegorical language. For them, appreciation of the mystery of a divine revelation possibly concealed in words yielded to puzzlement over language itself, specifically over the inadequacy of language to signify more than its own instability of design. This book is a tightly focused study of an important aspect of Puritan American writers' use of language by one of the leading scholars in the field of early American literature.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
The author studies the stylistic response to a dilemma faced by Puritan writers: they had an obligation to use language as a celebration of divine artistry, but they could not allow their writing to become authorial self-idolatry. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813117751
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 5/28/1992
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 The Necessity of Language 6
Words Like Wooden Horses: William Bradford and Thomas Morton 6
Double-Talk: Renaissance and Reformed Traditions 19
Concealed Verbal Artistry: Richard Mather and Edward Taylor 23
2 The Winding Sheet of Meditative Verse 30
The Wrack of Mortal Poets: Anne Bradstreet's "Contemplations" 35
Unfolding the Twisting Serpent: Edward Taylor's "Meditation 1.19" 45
3 Laughter and Death 68
All in Jest: Nathaniel Ward's The Simple Cobler 69
Dissolving Stones: Urian Oakes's Elegy on Thomas Shepard 80
4 Breaking Verbal Icons 89
Nature, Reason, and Language: Jonathan Edwards in Reaction 90
From Something to Nothing to Everything: Edwards's Early Sermons 103
5 Islands of Meaning 120
Eighteenth-Century Allegory or Satire? Nathan Fiske's "An Allegorical Description" 121
The Letter Killeth: Edward Bellamy's "To Whom This May Come" 130
Notes 146
Index 164
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