Vera Camden, ed. Trauma, and Transformation: The Political Progress of John Bunyan.
This volume provides valuable reading for scholars of the British seventeenth century and essential new material for those interested in dissenting culture and politics in seventeenth-century England or John Bunyan's work in particular.
The collection begins with a fascinating pair of essays. In the first, psychoanalytic critic Peter Rudnytski proposes a tantalizing thesis: that the postregicide generation in which John Bunyan lived out his adult years suffered a culture-wide case of trauma. Rudnytski builds his argument on T.S. Eliot's now shop-worn theory of a "dissociation of sensibility" and connects this dissociation with both the regicide and with the Fall through the application of psychoanalytic reading to key passages in Marvel, Milton, and Harrington. The essay yields fascinating insights. As the next essay in the collection demonstrates, however, the foundation of Rudnytski's argument is open to debate. In five brief pages, David Norbrook lands several quick blows and sends the "dissociation of sensibility" theory down for the count. Norbrook takes issue with Eliot's theory because it assumes a uniformity of mind in the English people and refuses to acknowledge the process of dialectic in political argument and counterargument which he believes underpins historical change. While Norbrook is appreciative of Rudnytski's thesis, he disputes the broad foundation of Rudnutski's analysis and some of its detail. The pairing of these essays makes for a bracing read and a delightful intellectual exchange where the creative, suggestive associations provided by Rudnytski are refined, recalibrated, and, in some cases, refused by Norbrook's sober historical analysis.
The issue of trauma is explored again by Camden herself in the context of John Bunyan's life. Camden sets out to interpret what other Bunyan biographers have not addressed: the motivations for Bunyan's change from a rebellious youth, through a period of mental distress and into a relatively stable adulthood of preaching and writing. She challenges established views promulgated by Christopher Hill and others of Bunyan as a young military man, steeped in confidence and burgeoning with a well-formed separatist ideology when he returned from military service in 1647.
The next three essays move beyond trauma to explore gender, marriage, and sex. Margaret Ezell investigates Bunyan's representation of gender. She questions existing critical evaluations of Bunyan's female characters that tend to drain the blood from them, so to speak, in order to understand these characters as dry figures or types rather than characters taken from his daily life and pastoral ministry. Ezell concludes that many of the more colourful women who populate his fictions may indeed have been drawn from his actual experience and cautions that we should not "protect Bunyan through omission and by abstraction from any association with female lewd livers" lest we overlook "one of the complex social dynamics that Bunyan, man and minister, had to negotiate" (80).
As Ezell assesses how critics view Bunyan's women, Tomas Luxon and Michael Davies probe Bunyan's own relations with the female gender. Thomas Luxon looks at Bunyan's representation of marriage, while Michael Davies assesses his subconscious fascination with sex. By way of a study of classical friendship doctrines, and of Milton's adaptation of these to a Christian view of marriage, Luxon evaluates Bunyan's thoughts on marriage as they are evident in his biography and in his literary representations. Not surprisingly, Luxon concludes that Bunyan's views fall outside of the learned classical and humanist discussion and fall squarely in the realm of Biblical tropes and symbolism. Luxon finds the Bedford preacher to be a cold fish whose language betrays at every turn a dismissal of earthly marriage in favour of a spiritual marriage with Christ himself. If Michael Davies's assessment is correct, however, Bunyan's preference for the figural over the fleshly may have led to repression. Davies explores evidence of the bawdy in "Apology" for The Pilgrim's Progress and other works. Although Davies provides many examples of what he argues to be bawdy in Bunyan's writing, he is reticent to commit to any intentionality on Bunyan's part. He argues that Bunyan's use of bawdy language is ultimately subversive and intended to direct "the reader away from sexual transgression and 'back to God'"(n8).
The final two essays place Bunyan in a larger historical content. Roger Pooley offers a refinement to the generally accepted view of Bunyan's radicalism with a balanced, historically grounded assessment of his theology and its potential to fuel political radicalism. Specifically, Pooley examines the strains of antinomian thought in Bunyan's writing and places him within a spectrum of these ideas, "left of Baxter; right of Clarkson; and not far from Dell, Crispe, and Saltmarsh" (133). Pooley affirms that antinomian doctrine that stressed freedom from the Mosaic law was perceived by some to create the justification for wanton freedom from civil laws. Not so for Bunyan. For all of his earlier resistance to authority, Bunyan, Pooley argues, was not "keen on 'willful resistance'" to King James II.
Sharon Achinstein also takes up the question of Bunyan's views of James II and unsettles firm assertions about Bunyan's final political opinions. She probes this issue in a study of the politics of late seventeenth-century remembrance and the particular significance of funerary remembrances--or the lack thereof--in Bunyan's case. With her characteristic rigor and due attention to a wide range of sources, Achinstein issues a challenge for scholars to look more carefully at Bunyan's final years and to tease out the complexities in both his theological and political views so as to avoid easy assumptions about who would have sided with whom in those tricky months that led to the Glorious Revolution. In conclusion, this is fine collection, rich in insight and full of invigorating controversy.
The King's University College
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2009|
|Previous Article:||Nora Foster Stovel. Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings.|
|Next Article:||Some self-reflections on colonialism and postcolonialism.|