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  • Trauma and Transformation: The Political Progress of John Bunyan
  • Nancy Rosenfeld
Vera J. Camden , ed. Trauma and Transformation: The Political Progress of John Bunyan.Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008. xii + 185 pp. index. $55. ISBN: 978–08047–5785–0.

Almost all of the papers in this excellent collection were delivered at the Third Triennial Conference of the International John Bunyan Society that convened in Cleveland, Ohio in October 2001, a mere month after the traumatic events of 11 [End Page 1047] September 2001. This trauma, as editor and contributor Vera J. Camden notes, shaped the volume. "In retrospect, it seems uncanny how our ongoing crisis appears to have been adumbrated in the cultural cataclysms of Bunyan' s England . . . our scholarly discourse about religious pluralism and intolerance, rebellion against authority and the temptation to tyranny, the psychological impact of military and domestic service, the gendering of dissent and the dissent from gendered imperatives, and the impact of cultural change on the experience of national subjects . . . took on an immediacy that could not have been premeditated but that now appears to have been —to follow Bunyan —'foreordained'" (4).

In "Dissociation and Decapitation," the anchor essay, Peter L. Rudnytsky claims that an examination of the poetry of Andrew Marvell and the prose of John Milton leads to the conclusion that the 1649 regicide "was experienced as a trauma not simply by Royalists but by English society as a whole. As a transgressive act, moreover, the regicide was assimilated to the paradigm of the Fall, thereby fusing religious and political discourses" (33–34). The collection' s genesis in a conference is recalled by David Norbrook' s "Response to Peter Rudnytsky," in which the respondent questions Rudnytsky' s use of dissociation theory as a tool in explicating the historical processes both reflected in and shaped by Bunyan' s oeuvre. Or in Norbrook' s words, "dissociation theory takes a particular phase of English political culture, the personal rule of Charles I, as a default mode from which all else is an aberration" (38).

The scintillating debate between Rudnytsky and Norbrook is followed by "Young Man Bunyan," Camden' s contribution, in which the author —a scholar, as is Rudnytsky, both of English literature and of psychoanalysis —discusses "Bunyan' s silence about the regicide within the context of his otherwise vivid, though spare, account of the years of his young manhood" (42). Using Erik Erikson' s Young Man Luther as a glass through which Bunyan' s "youth-in-crisis" years are viewed, Camden suggests a perspective on Bunyan' s youth that takes into account his participation in the English Revolution (49).

During the years of Bunyan' s ministry, women often comprised the majority of active members of nonconformist congregations. Three of the essays question conventional scholarly wisdom regarding gender issues in Bunyan' s career as a public preacher, as well as in his writings. Margaret J. M. Ezell argues that by emphasizing the "figural nature" of women in Bunyan' s writings, scholars have "relegated transgressive women to the realm of the abstract and emblematic" ; his women congregants are thus seen as "of no real temptation to Bunyan the minister and man" (79). Thomas H. Luxon contends that Bunyan the husband "knows next to nothing of the humanist project of treating marriage as a friendship, employing the terminology and principles of classical friendship doctrine to bring new dignity to Christian heterosexual marriage. This humanist project lies at the core of Milton' s theories of marriage, and his depictions of Adam and Eve, but it plays no role in Bunyan' s sense of Christian marriage" (91). This section concludes with a discussion of Bunyan' s bawdy, in which Michael Davies suggests that [End Page 1048] "Bunyan' s displays of revulsion towards women and sex, and his punning around them, may not reflect any deep misogyny in Bunyan' s psyche as much as a profound sensitivity to sexual matters at a time when Nonconformists were frequently vilified as 'libertines'" (118–19).

John Bunyan spent some twelve years in prison for his refusal to agree to refrain from preaching. Yet just how radical was Bunyan, and why do we want to know? Roger Pooley opens his examination of Bunyan' s...


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