The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Puritan Fiction


Keeble N (1980) The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Puritan Fiction. Baptist Quarterly, 28 (7), pp. 321-336.

I N his history of the English novel, Waiter AlIen opines, with reference to Bunyan, that when "reality did enter English fiction it came from the least expected of quarters and in the least expected of forms". WaIter AlIen is clearly puzzled by the phenomenon of The Pilgrim's Progress: he concludes it is inexplicable. The books Bunyan read, we are told, "do not matter in the least. Bunyan was a transcendent genius ... and his work is as original as anything in literature can be": "The kind of work he wrote was completely unheralded".  What so surprised and impressed Waiter Allen in The Pilgrim's Progress was its fictional realism, its kinship to the novel. Bunyan, of course, did not think he was writing a novel. He was upon the same evangelical and pastoral business as in those other treatises now being republished by the Clarendon Press as his Miscellaneous Works. The result is that, as a novel, The Pilgrim's Progress is imperfect. An inhibiting and incongruous didacticism will keep destroying the imaginative consistency of the fable and suspending the narrative for long passages of discourse in which all pretence at colloquial dialogue between human characters is abandoned. Biblical warrant is relentlessly adduced for' disturbingly confident and minute theological analyses of human experience. This reminds us not of the novel, but of the vast library of Puritan practical divinity to which Bunyan thought he was contributing. For Waiter Allen, however, what Bunyan thus owed to earlier divines is not only incidental to the achievement of the book, it has nothing to do with the creation of that achievement. He finds no connexion between what he sees as artistically accomplished and these didactic features. How or why a work of practical divinity should suddenly show every sign of turning into a novel is a mystery.

Baptist Quarterly: Volume 28, Issue 7

Publication date31/07/1980
PublisherBaptist Historical Society
Publisher URL