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The Way and the Ways of Puritan Story: Biblical Patterns in Bunyan and his Contemporaries

Keeble N (1984) The Way and the Ways of Puritan Story: Biblical Patterns in Bunyan and his Contemporaries. English, 33 (147), pp. 209-232.

First paragraph: 'As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn'. Even before he enters Bunyan's dreamworld, the reader of The Pilgrim's Progress is transported by its opening words into a curious, and, apparently, improbable landscape. Bedfordshire, after all, was no wilderness. It is, furthermore, a landscape ordinarily to avoid, to go round or away from, or, at worst, hurry across. Yet Bunyan is walking there, and not merely wandering aimlessly: both verb and preposition are purposeful. To walk through a wilderness is to be going somewhere, and to walk through it is to be going unhurriedly but steadily. The marginal gloss 'Gaol' upon 'Denn' alerts us (should we need it) to the figurative nature of this language, and Bunyan's address, twelve years earlier, of the preface of Grace Abounding (1666) 'from the Lions Dens', from the prison where 'I stick between the Teeth of the Lions in the Wilderness'2, points to the source of its imagery. Dens are inhabited by lurking lions in the wildernesses of Biblical story (Ps. 10.9; Amos 3.4), and by cockatrices (Isa. 11.8) and dragons (Jer. 9.11, 10.22) too. They are, indeed, fearful places, their floors strewn with torn carcasses (Nahum 2.12), the haunt of robbers (Jer. 7.11) and defeated Israelite refugees (Judges 6.2). That single monosyllable hence tells a good deal about the plight of nonconformists under the 'Great Persecution' and of Bunyan's relationship to the authorities of the Restoration, but his wilderness is not merely that created by Charles II, Clarendon, Sheldon and the Cavalier Parliament. His words, unobtrusively recalling the geography of a far distant place and the journeys of a far distant time, place his own and his readers' experiences in that larger Biblical perspective Puritan writing habitually adopted. It was a perspective which in large part determined the form of Puritan story.

English: Volume 33, Issue 147

Author(s)Keeble, Neil
Publication date30/09/1984
PublisherOxford University Press
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