02 August 2011
Sure, click the image.
e-mail to A., who is in the USA Peace Corps in Ukraine, and when he's done, wants a doctorate in English literature ...
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Before I turn your Future Academic Career over to the person who actually KNOWS something ...
When I spoke to S.W.M.B.O. about your query, she guessed you were aiming at the era of the King James Bible (most of which is lifted verbatim from Tyndale/Tyndall, who was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536 in Belgium for his efforts -- truly, no good deed goes unpunished). She's eagerly awaiting your specific guidance on the targets of your studies.
Well anyway, do you like Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" (1678)?
It gives S.W.M.B.O. the creeps because it's the seminal work of the faith of her Pilgrim forebears, who were notoriously and grimly Not Happy People. But I don't have her particular Sunday School whip marks, scars and night terrors, so I was able to read TPP without shrieking or fleeing, and I could concentrate almost entirely on his writing.
I think in the English language, it's been printed and published more than any other book except The Bible. Every American colonial family would have owned a King James Bible, but if they could afford a second book, it was "The Pilgrim's Progress." Shaw has a critical essay about it, titled simply "Better Than Shakespeare."
Bunyan's story is as compelling and astonishing as his book. He was an illiterate, unschooled and crude country man from the north of England (far from the influence of the literati of London, which he may never even have been to) of no recognized achievement or character, either good or bad. I think he was a soldier in Cromwell's Puritan Army, and married a widow whose dowry consisted of a few non-conformist religious tracts.
When (with his wife's help) he grasped the tracts, he was electrified, and from that moment lived only to spread his heart's interpretation of the Gospel. He still could have died unknown and unremembered, because England at the time was crawling with self-appointed preachers.
But he just naturally gravitated to telling the Gospel story as an allegorical novel which I (modestly) deem as The High Point in the entire history of English prose. Certainly a tie with Shakespeare and Chaucer. I'd be happy to put Faulkner in this heady company.
Stringing English words together for power, effect and influence is what I do, and I know The Good Stuff when I see it. This is The Best, and if you haven't read it, please take your first leisure moment (I understand you don't have lots of these right now) and read it. Here's the Project Gutenberg edition, so you can trust it to be letter-perfect to the original. If you prefer (like all non-perverts) a Physical Book, it won't be hard to find when you leave Cyrilliana and return to English Lingo World.
Remember that like the KJV/Tyndale Bibles, The Whole Point was to speak or write in a way which Every Man and Woman (and most children) could immediately and fully comprehend. But beyond Bunyan's amazing achievement with universal clarity, he used our language to wrap his story in a grandeur and power, a sense of Terrible Import, which readers could not put down or ever forget.
Hawthorne's wonderful short story "The Celestial Railroad" -- well, to have the slightest clue what the crazy story is about, you must first have read and been intimate with The Pilgrim's Progress (as every 19th century Christian New Englander would have been).
I must add one story about Bunyan which I'm pretty sure is true. After his conversion, he devoted his life to non-conformist public preaching -- which was outlawed and punished by the Church-State. A preacher could seek a license, some were granted, but an unlicensed preacher was a criminal in defiance of the most serious demands of the State, and knew it.
So he spent a great deal of his adult life in jail, in chains, and, on at least one occasion, in the stocks on the town common, a sentence of several days.
Each day and night his neighbors came and fed and watered him and kept him company.
When you get in a big-ass jam, it's nice to have lots of friends and neighbors who like you.
Your admiring long-winded gasbag,