The final essay in The Cambridge Companion to Bunyan begins with an impressively current reference to President Barack Obama and a tribute poem upon his election titled "Pilgrim's Progress" by Nigerian poet Tolu Ogunlesi. As a whole the collection establishes Bunyan's rightful place in the esteemed (and affordable) Cambridge Companion reference series. Editor Anne Dunan-Page dutifully includes essays on all of Bunyan's major works, and prevents the volume from having a near-exclusive focus on The Pilgrim's Progress. However, Bunyan would not still be relevant without that seminal work and it receives appropriate attention.
The volume works on a chronological structure in its approach to Bunyan scholarship, in relation to publication sequence, and with three generations of his legacy. The contributors constitute a "Who's Who" of Bunyan scholars and the quality of the essays is high. Part I begins with Bunyan's life (N.H. Keeble), followed by the historical context of the Restoration (Nigel Smith) and then Bunyan's relation to the Bible (W. R. Owens), and concluding with an oddly placed psychoanalytic essay by Vera J. Camden about "John Bunyan and the Goodwives of Bedford." Part II offers an essay on each of five major works: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Michael Davies); The Pilgrim's Progress (Roger Pooley); The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (Stuart Sim); The Holy War (David Walker); and A Book for Boys and Girls: Or, Country Rhimes for Children (Shannon Murray). Part III, "Readership and Reception" offers three essays on Bunyan's legacy: the early development of the Bunyan canon (Anne Dunan-Page); the Victorian embrace of Bunyan (Emma Mason); and the above-referenced essay by Isabel Hofmeyr that puts Bunyan's work in a truly worldly and contemporary context in the postcolonial world.
As is typical for a Cambridge Companion, the essays are preceded by a "Chronology," [End Page 6] which should provide easy reference to Bunyan's major life events (going to jail, becoming pastor, and so forth) and publication dates. After the first entry on Bunyan's birth, the specific information on Bunyan is buried in annual entries (with one exception). The Chronology is only useful after the reader's work with a sharp eye and a highlighting pen. Of course it's helpful to put Bunyan's life and work in context of his contemporaries and historical events, but information about Bunyan should stand out and be far easier to find. The other strictly referential section, "Guide to Further Reading," is better organized in several categories and provides a thorough bibliography.
N.H. Keeble's opening essay establishes a clear and helpful historical context for Bunyan's life and work, especially in relation to the rapidly evolving print culture, the increasing literacy of the time, and the advantages sought by Puritan writers in both licensed and unlicensed publications. Most importantly, Keeble unmasks Bunyan's self-fashioned persona of being "ill educated" and "poorly read" (20), dispelling the myths of Bunyan as a casual, inspired writer. The ensuing essay by Nigel Smith historicizes Bunyan specifically in terms of the Restoration, his most prolific period, and provides a literary analysis of Bunyan's use of figuration, especially in the allegories. The historical context would not be complete without Owens' contribution, "John Bunyan and the Bible," focusing on "the only book that really mattered" to him (39). The essay includes an important section on the use of typology and an argument about how allegory was permissible even among seventeenth-century Puritans (44-5). Perhaps in an effort to address Bunyan's relationship to women, in the figures of the "Bedford wives" in Grace Abounding, Vera Camden's essay is too reliant on modern modes of psychoanalytic theory to provide historically based insight on gender relations in Bunyan. The essay does provide some provocative readings about Bunyan's accounts of women in his literature, in counterpoint to his known "belief in the fundamental weakness and inferiority of women" (qtd. 60).
The second part provides in-depth presentations of Bunyan's five...