More than an ecclesiastical or political history, this book is a vivid description of the earliest American immigrant experience. It depicts the dramatic tale of the seventeenth-century newcomers to our shores as they were drawn and pushed to make their way in an unsettled and unsettling world.
A powerfully imaginative and personal book—perhaps as all great American books on the Puritans must be.
The author of this study, displaying an ideal combination of sensibility and judgement, discusses the Puritans who fled to New England and traces the effect of their immigrant experience on American literature. Like later immigrants, they found that emotional rifts opened between the first and second generations, and, like other English religious radicals, they were disturbed by women’s demands for religious equality. The Puritan hope of creating a Christian—nonexploitative—economy in the New World was disappointed, and the dominant strand in Puritan thought became the need to constrain sinful human beings. However, Mr. Delbanco believes that it was the other strand in Puritan thought—the aspiration toward a community of saints—which became an important influence on American literature.
Andrew Delbanco’s book is concerned with one of the most famous achievements of the Puritan spirit, the colonisation of New England. Popular American mythology depicts this as a classic triumph of faith over adversity. Mr. Delbanco shows convincingly that it is more truly seen as an ‘ordeal’, marked by tensions already present in the old world and intensified in the new.
This is a learned, well-researched, quotable text, delving deeply into matters of scholastic debate; yet the most interesting parts illuminate the felt experience of the earliest New Englanders: their passion for sermons, their Pauline belief in sudden transformations through grace.
Andrew Delbanco’s focus on conflicted feelings within Puritanism and their historical development gives [The Puritan Ordeal] originality and freshness. The book…is distinguished by two original and subtle arguments… The major argument…is that the Puritans of New England left home on an errand from the wilderness of contemporary England to escape the acquisitive life… To this argument about the early years of New England is grafted a secondary and much more speculative argument about Americans as immigrants. Delbanco identifies Americans as immigrants with the ‘extraordinary tenacity…with which Americans have clung to the belief that their lives can be radically renewed.’
Against those historians whose primary interest has been the life of the mind or the development of the ecclesia, Delbanco emphasizes the fact that the Puritans were first and foremost a group of immigrants. This book offers a perceptive look at the inner history of that particular group.
Delbanco’s singular achievement in The Puritan Ordeal remains his sensitive, attentive, and generous recovery of the first emigrants’ voices… [This book] may well provide the richest transcription we have of the hesitant, bewildered yet ultimately hopeful new-world inflections that register everywhere in early American culture.
The arguments in this book will resonate in the study of American culture for years to come… There is much to recommend this book…historians and literary critics alike will be challenged by [it]. The Puritan Ordeal shows great promise for the continuing study of the life of the mind in America.
A noteworthy historical analysis.
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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