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  • Literature to 1800
  • Scott Slawinski

No one word, phrase, or clause can capture the wide variety of writings about the early American period published this year. The New England Puritans, slavery, Benjamin Franklin, the novel, and aesthetics are especially prominent, but a number of other topics attract attention too, including the Haitian Revolution, women and empire, poetry, and the theater. Though there are only a few studies of Native Americans, and the Eastern Seaboard continues to dominate, the scholarship in large measure ranges widely and displays the richness and vitality of the field.

i New England Puritans and Other Early Colonizers

A few studies concern colonization in areas other than New England, but a significant number add to the ever-growing volume of material about the Puritans. Taken together they continue to uncover the breadth of intellectual life and concerns over identity experienced by these early colonizers.

Jerry Hunter traces the development of the myth of the pre-Columbian Welsh discovery of the New World and interactions with the natives in "Myth and Historiography: One Hundred and Sixty Years of Madog and the Madogwys" (YES 46: 37–55), one of several valuable essays gathered under the topic "Writing the Americas" in the Yearbook of English Studies. Focusing on 17th-century Virginia, Susan Castillo Street's "Forging a Transatlantic Persona: Panegyric Verse and John Smith's Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles" (YES [End Page 173] 46: 75–89) concludes that this component of the Generall Historie plays "a crucial part in establishing Smith's credibility, veracity, and moral standing as a participant in and an eyewitness to these events." The verses "are also part of Smith's attempts to re-fashion his own identity and consolidate his status as a writer." In Counting Bodies: Population in Colonial American Writing (Oxford) Molly Farrell looks at a range of colonial writings—imaginative, personal, and narrative—that normalized tallying colonial bodies and show that "representing individuals as numbers was a central element of colonial projects." Each of her case studies—New England Puritans and Anne Bradstreet's poetry, Richard Ligon's History of Barbados, Increase Mather's and Mary Rowlandson's presentations of King Philip's War, death statistics in colonial newspapers, the United States Constitution, Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and William Cowper's poetry—are steps "toward conceiving of the self as a number within a larger quantifiable whole."

Among the essays focused on 17th-century Puritans, Nicole Gray's "Aurality in Print: Revisiting Roger Williams's A Key into the Language of America" (PMLA 131: 64–83) argues that, though appearing in print, the vocabulary in Williams's Key was meant to be spoken aloud, essentially performed, and she is most interested in how the interaction between print and the text's aural dimensions relates to the audience's use of the book and when it fails as mimetic representation. In "From Rattlesnake Eggs to Alexander the Great: Edward Taylor's Commonplace Book" (YES 46: 90–111) Amy M. E. Morris aims by examining that text to regain a sense of Taylor's intellectual life as more wide-ranging than heretofore acknowledged from readings of his theological and poetic texts. Focusing on another Puritan poet, Adrian Chastain Weimer's "From Human Suffering to Divine Friendship: Meat out of the Eater and Devotional Reading in Early New England" (EAL 51: 3–39) situates Michael Wigglesworth's long poem within the devotional tradition. Weimer explores Wigglesworth's wrestling with and attempting to provide guidance in the face of the Christian paradox that a believer must suffer before receiving divine friendship. Continuing to spotlight the Puritan poetic tradition, Dover has published in one volume a facsimile of the Bay Psalm Book and Zoltán Haraszti's 1956 academic study The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book. Female piety anchored New England religious culture, contends Bryce Traister in Female Piety and the Invention of American Puritanism (Ohio State), but it also fostered an anti-institutional attitude that resisted easy absorption into religious and [End Page 174] secular institutions, producing an "incipient secular liberalism." Traister's study spans most of the 17th century, with chapters centered on...


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