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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Wyndham’s Chrysalid Puritans

Posted by Adam Roberts on 01/09/10 at 05:23 AM

I’m writing an introduction for John Wyndham’s excellent 1955 novel The Chrysalids, and as part of that I’ve been thinking about the representation of Puritans in mid-20th-century literature.  Because, although they’re not identified as such, Wyndham’s fundmentalist-religious rural Waknuk dwellers, persecuting all genetic mutants in God’s name (’KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD. THE DEVIL IS THE FATHER OF DEVIATION. WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT!’) are evidently a kind of Salem-Witch-Trial variety Puritan.  Now it’s clear enough that one of the things Wyndham is doing here is channelling Miller’s Crucible (1953), translating that world, and its claustrophobic edge-of-hysteria paranoia, into a post-apocalypse future.  But this is what I don’t know: what studies have there been of representation of analogue-Puritans in contemporary culture?  I don’t mean actual studies of Puritan culture, or analyses of the Witch Trials themselves; JSTOR is chock-full of them.  And I don’t mean dramatic or novelistic accounts of that culture, or those trials—although there’s lots of those too.  Though Miller’s text is the one that casts the longest shadow, influence-wise, a very little searching uncovers lots of earlier or contemporary versions of the same thing: Shirley Barker’s novel Peace, My Daughters (1949), A Mirror for Witches (1933) by Esther Forbes, or Lyon Phelps’s play The Gospel Witch (1955).  No, I’m talking about texts that deal, as Wyndham’s does, in imaginary religious communities clearly based upon Puritan culture without actually being Puritan; some Crucible or Scarlet Letter retread.  The community in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 film The Village would be another example of what I’m talking about.

I would assume that, in addition to the myriad studies of actual Puritan life and culture with which the library catalogues are so well supplied, there must be critical studies of the broader representation of ‘Puritanism’ in culture.  What are they?  Does anybody know?


The best example I can think of off hand is The Children of the Light in Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series.  Although they are a military force, they are like a roving band of Puritans going from town to town encouraging citizen to root out “Darkfriends” who live among them.

By on 01/09/10 at 12:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s very interesting, Will: thank you.

By Adam Roberts on 01/11/10 at 06:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have vague memories of Neil Pearson going out of his mind, possibly wielding an axe, in this:


It was set in an isolated ‘Puritan’ village, if I’m right.

(Writer Adrian Hodges went on to pen Primeval and Survivors, of course.)

By on 01/11/10 at 09:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Toni Morrison’s *Paradise*.

By on 01/12/10 at 10:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Not quite mid 20th but the Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, book and film, and studies thereof seem likely to link/refer to any treatments of latterday puritanism. 

My blog: The University of In-Between

By Jonathan Gladstone on 01/13/10 at 08:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Of course! It’s the obvious example ... thanks Jonathan.

By Adam Roberts on 01/13/10 at 10:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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