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WHY NOT ASK QUESTIONS WILLIAM BRADFORD NEVER INTENDED US TO ASK ABOUT HIS HISTORY OF THE PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS?

ec25823a0c61b61b2acab54294d327a8

(Repeated from November 2015)

It’s the month for Thanksgiving in the U.S., and I hope you have joined us as we have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last two postings just to get a context for this post. Throughout the month I am breaking with my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule and posting much more frequently.

Last time I gave a short overview of Bradford’s book. If you want to read it all and really get into the spirit of Thanksgiving and of November, click here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950. But I was thinking about how Bradford would have liked his readers to respond to his story. And for most of postcolonial American history readers pretty well accepted Bradford’s story as he intended.

We are not his intended readers, though. We are all Postmoderns whether we like it or not and our ways are not his ways. What any given author intended is not really that relevant for us. We see the words on the page and we read them through our own post-paradigm shift.

So, let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask. I am breaking this article into two parts. Stay tuned.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

THE HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION: HOW WILLIAM BRADFORD WANTED US TO READ HIS THANKSGIVING STORY

ed2f1c7599a9d3c396f47930d60d7dce

November 15, 2016

(Repeated from November 2015)

I live in West Texas—where we capitalize the W—and here it is November and seven weeks after the first day of fall. As is typical here, the leaves are all brown and are ignominiously just blowing off the few trees we have. No big piles of fall leaves here. No beautiful autumn colors. It is harvest time but the harvest is cotton, not corn and wheat or anything like that. Still, I love it, but it’s a loose relationship based upon an unspoken understanding that West Texas fall can do what it wants and I can do what I want.

Yeah, but what I want is some fall leaves, some frost, and a fire in the fireplace of this the study I can only dream about. Anyway, let me pull down my Classics Club edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, always a favorite in November, and see what’s special about this book.

Horn of Plenty dbf03e639fc949265716c65b3960905c

Here’s the traditional reading of William Bradford, the reading that has been used to help establish the view of the United States as an exceptional nation founded under special circumstances and established by God much as God established the wandering Israelites in the Promised Land.

Bradford structures his history around annual accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 until 1646. The most famous parts, obviously, are the early parts about the first encounters of the Pilgrims in the New World, the stories of the tension surrounding the development of the Mayflower Compact, the brutal first winter in a hostile land during which over half the colony perishes, and the bountiful harvest of 1621 which would have been impossible without the help of the Native American locals led by Massasoit.

From the start Bradford considers “the hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” while in the end he shows us a well-established community with a bright future, a community that serves as a beacon shining light into darkness. Early school pedagogues used to teach Bradford’s History as the first American epic with its theme of dogged struggle of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness. Although self-effacing, Bradford has usually been seen as a man of profound goodness and dignity, practicality, compassion, and monumental endurance.

Thus, the traditional interpretation and certainly the intended interpretation by the author. However, this is the postmodern era, and for us today what the author of any given text intended no longer matters—at least not in the way, here, that Bradford thought.

But next time let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

THE BEGINNINGS: WILLIAM BRADFORD’S HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION

Manuscript williambradford.opptext

November 14, 2016

(Repeat from November 2015)

I’ve started re-reading William Bradford’s foundational Thanksgiving text, History of Plymouth Plantation again after many years. It used to be a yearly ritual for me, but after I started teaching it nearly every semester it lost some of its lustre for me. But now’s another time and another place. Why not go back to this dusty old book that up until recent decades would have been read by every “schoolboy” in public schools.

The thing is, in recent years as I have studied the book formally and as I have taught it to literature majors and to undergraduates, I have come to realize how wrong the traditional readings have been, how most of what we think of regarding the Pilgrims probably is not as clean cut and worthy of Hallmark Cards’ mythologizing.

William-Bradford

A few preliminaries: Plymouth Plantation tells the original story of the Pilgrims. As you may recall, the Plymouth Pilgrims established a colony Scrooby in the Netherlands. They fled England due to religious persecution. Strangely, the Pilgrims’ story occurred during a period in English history when the Puritan branches of the English church were coming to power. Shortly after Bradford’s people left England the country would undergo its civil war that was a religious war in many ways.

What differentiated the Pilgrims from similar religious groups back home was that, unlike the Separatists, for example, the Pilgrims were not willing to try to remain within the Church of England and try to reform it from within. The Pilgrims wanted not merely to separate but to sever ties with the Church. It was Bradford who named the group Pilgrims so as to make the distinction.

When the Pilgrims felt they had outworn their welcome in Scooby they decided to sail for the New World and gained a charter for land in English Virginia. Alas, the Mayflower was blown far off course and they landed in Massachusetts instead.

Thus the beginnings. Let’s look at the book of adventure, signs, and wonders starting next Friday. But just one more note. William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation actually was lost to posterity until the middle of the 19th century. The first chapter had been reprinted often enough but it was not until the manuscript was discovered in the library of the bishop of London and finally published in 1857 that the U.S. recovered one of its chief founding documents. In 1897 it was deposited in the State House in Boston.

WILLIAM BRADFORD: MR. NOVEMBER

the-landing-of-the-pilgrims-at-plymouth-currier-and-ives

(Repeat from November 2015)

Halloween is over and with November and the depressing time change in the U.S., our attention turns to the holidays ahead. And first up is Thanksgiving and the yearly looking back to our Pilgrim forebears.

Many years ago I used to pull down my old Classics Club volume of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation every November and read through it. So I just pulled down my beloved Classics Club edition once again. How many of you subscribed to those old Classics Club editions back when?

classics-club-insert-images

Anyway, those of you who love Great Literature, if you need a reason to spend a few minutes every week really getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving, then join me during November as we look at the most famous document of Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims.

The actual book is quite a read, truthfully, so I am just going to look a few of the most famous passages. But here is the link to the full text at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950.

If you go back to really old textbook anthologies of American Literature, you will

often find them beginning the literature of the United States with William Bradford. Who knows, maybe some books still begin American Literature with Bradford and the New England Pilgrims.

That’s crazy, of course. I mean, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. By 1620 Santa Fe, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas were already flourishing American cities with intellectual cultures developing. Columbus, of course, had already written of his voyages. Thomas Harriot had written A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Perhaps, more striking, the tribal peoples of North America had long been developing a dynamic and powerful literature for centuries. Surely, all these peoples were Americans. Oh well. Messy facts too often detract from wonderful and sentimental traditions.

Accordingly, William Bradford was one of the greatest of colonial Americans, a man large in spirit and wisdom, wholly consecrated to a mission of which he regarded himself as an instrument of God. The early history of Plymouth Colony was the history of his leadership, and, in fact, tiny Plymouth occupies a position in history wholly incommensurate with its size.

Like the patriarchs of the Old Testament, William Bradford in History Of Plymouth Plantation “recorded God’s ‘choosing’ of His people, their exile, and their wanderings”

November is the month we celebrate the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock in the American Thanksgiving tradition. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving month by taking a look at William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.

THE HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION: HOW WILLIAM BRADFORD WANTED US TO READ HIS THANKSGIVING STORY

ed2f1c7599a9d3c396f47930d60d7dce

November 15, 2016

(Repeated from November 2015)

I live in West Texas—where we capitalize the W—and here it is November and seven weeks after the first day of fall. As is typical here, the leaves are all brown and are ignominiously just blowing off the few trees we have. No big piles of fall leaves here. No beautiful autumn colors. It is harvest time but the harvest is cotton, not corn and wheat or anything like that. Still, I love it, but it’s a loose relationship based upon an unspoken understanding that West Texas fall can do what it wants and I can do what I want.

Yeah, but what I want is some fall leaves, some frost, and a fire in the fireplace of this the study I can only dream about. Anyway, let me pull down my Classics Club edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, always a favorite in November, and see what’s special about this book.

Horn of Plenty dbf03e639fc949265716c65b3960905c

Here’s the traditional reading of William Bradford, the reading that has been used to help establish the view of the United States as an exceptional nation founded under special circumstances and established by God much as God established the wandering Israelites in the Promised Land.

Bradford structures his history around annual accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 until 1646. The most famous parts, obviously, are the early parts about the first encounters of the Pilgrims in the New World, the stories of the tension surrounding the development of the Mayflower Compact, the brutal first winter in a hostile land during which over half the colony perishes, and the bountiful harvest of 1621 which would have been impossible without the help of the Native American locals led by Massasoit.

From the start Bradford considers “the hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” while in the end he shows us a well-established community with a bright future, a community that serves as a beacon shining light into darkness. Early school pedagogues used to teach Bradford’s History as the first American epic with its theme of dogged struggle of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness. Although self-effacing, Bradford has usually been seen as a man of profound goodness and dignity, practicality, compassion, and monumental endurance.

Thus, the traditional interpretation and certainly the intended interpretation by the author. However, this is the postmodern era, and for us today what the author of any given text intended no longer matters—at least not in the way, here, that Bradford thought.

But next time let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

THE BEGINNINGS: WILLIAM BRADFORD’S HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION

Manuscript williambradford.opptext

November 14, 2016

(Repeat from November 2015)

I’ve started re-reading William Bradford’s foundational Thanksgiving text, History of Plymouth Plantation again after many years. It used to be a yearly ritual for me, but after I started teaching it nearly every semester it lost some of its lustre for me. But now’s another time and another place. Why not go back to this dusty old book that up until recent decades would have been read by every “schoolboy” in public schools.

The thing is, in recent years as I have studied the book formally and as I have taught it to literature majors and to undergraduates, I have come to realize how wrong the traditional readings have been, how most of what we think of regarding the Pilgrims probably is not as clean cut and worthy of Hallmark Cards’ mythologizing.

William-Bradford

A few preliminaries: Plymouth Plantation tells the original story of the Pilgrims. As you may recall, the Plymouth Pilgrims established a colony Scrooby in the Netherlands. They fled England due to religious persecution. Strangely, the Pilgrims’ story occurred during a period in English history when the Puritan branches of the English church were coming to power. Shortly after Bradford’s people left England the country would undergo its civil war that was a religious war in many ways.

What differentiated the Pilgrims from similar religious groups back home was that, unlike the Separatists, for example, the Pilgrims were not willing to try to remain within the Church of England and try to reform it from within. The Pilgrims wanted not merely to separate but to sever ties with the Church. It was Bradford who named the group Pilgrims so as to make the distinction.

When the Pilgrims felt they had outworn their welcome in Scooby they decided to sail for the New World and gained a charter for land in English Virginia. Alas, the Mayflower was blown far off course and they landed in Massachusetts instead.

Thus the beginnings. Let’s look at the book of adventure, signs, and wonders starting next Friday. But just one more note. William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation actually was lost to posterity until the middle of the 19th century. The first chapter had been reprinted often enough but it was not until the manuscript was discovered in the library of the bishop of London and finally published in 1857 that the U.S. recovered one of its chief founding documents. In 1897 it was deposited in the State House in Boston.

WILLIAM BRADFORD: MR. NOVEMBER

the-landing-of-the-pilgrims-at-plymouth-currier-and-ives

(Repeat from November 2015)

Halloween is over and with November and the depressing time change in the U.S., our attention turns to the holidays ahead. And first up is Thanksgiving and the yearly looking back to our Pilgrim forebears.

Many years ago I used to pull down my old Classics Club volume of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation every November and read through it. So I just pulled down my beloved Classics Club edition once again. How many of you subscribed to those old Classics Club editions back when?

classics-club-insert-images

Anyway, those of you who love Great Literature, if you need a reason to spend a few minutes every week really getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving, then join me during November as we look at the most famous document of Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims.

The actual book is quite a read, truthfully, so I am just going to look a few of the most famous passages. But here is the link to the full text at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950.

If you go back to really old textbook anthologies of American Literature, you will

often find them beginning the literature of the United States with William Bradford. Who knows, maybe some books still begin American Literature with Bradford and the New England Pilgrims.

That’s crazy, of course. I mean, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. By 1620 Santa Fe, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas were already flourishing American cities with intellectual cultures developing. Columbus, of course, had already written of his voyages. Thomas Harriot had written A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Perhaps, more striking, the tribal peoples of North America had long been developing a dynamic and powerful literature for centuries. Surely, all these peoples were Americans. Oh well. Messy facts too often detract from wonderful and sentimental traditions.

Accordingly, William Bradford was one of the greatest of colonial Americans, a man large in spirit and wisdom, wholly consecrated to a mission of which he regarded himself as an instrument of God. The early history of Plymouth Colony was the history of his leadership, and, in fact, tiny Plymouth occupies a position in history wholly incommensurate with its size.

Like the patriarchs of the Old Testament, William Bradford in History Of Plymouth Plantation “recorded God’s ‘choosing’ of His people, their exile, and their wanderings”

November is the month we celebrate the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock in the American Thanksgiving tradition. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving month by taking a look at William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.

Elitist Approaches to Great Literature as Conflicting with Cultural and Class Issues

OxfordStandardAuthors

I love all my books on my bookshelves. I love my compete set of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, my New York Edition of Henry James’s complete works, my Oxford Standard Editions, my Classics Club set. All my wonderful canonical authors of Great Literature. Here I am sitting in my big stuffy leather chair just looking at my books and longing for time to read. But when I really think things through, sometimes, not often, but sometimes I get that guilty feeling that my precious privilege just might be problematic.

I’m writing about what it means to live a Literary Life and especially the last few days about ways to think about the Great Literature that means so much to us. And here’s a stickler of a question that never goes away.

Could a person from an underprivileged class, tribe, whatever, merely by sheer genius, exert himself or herself and produce Great Literature independent of any cultural or class considerations?

Well, that’s a problem when it comes to deciding who the Major Writers are and what Great Literature is. I mean, what criteria is used to decide if a certain poem or novel is great? (I use the passive voice deliberately.) By any chance is the criteria used to determine greatness criteria that supports the historical white male, privileged class power structure? If so, what are the implications?

Oh boy. We could go on and on, but these are important questions and important issues for anybody living a Literary Life. And, really, not just for reading Major British, Continental, or American writers from the past.

Think about it. Who are considered the great artists of today in the US, say, and in the world? Who says? Who do these great contemporary artists represent and what values do they represent? Now be careful. Don’t jump to conclusions that because the artists we celebrate dress far differently onstage or onscreen than anybody else, or that because so many seem utterly out of middle-class conformity, that somehow they do not mirror the values of the middle class and the standard culture in which they perform.

Again, think about it. Can an artist who does not represent the power class today be considered great? Really? Ok, name your famous, great, celebrity artist who deeply opposes your class’s values. I mean, I would assume that greatness in any field requires nonconformity, nonacceptance of prevailing values to be great (among many other things). Else, what’s to be great?

Or, consider: How do we (as members of the power class) treat those occasional artists who do not represent our class today? For example, how does Fox News treat filmmakers like Michael Moore or Oliver Stone? What hip hop artists are acceptable? Actually, not just Fox, but how do any of the major media treat any poet? Any novelist who can’t hit the New York Times Bestseller list?

Ah, my books. What are your most prized books on your shelves? What’s your reaction to these questions I have put out there? Write it in the comment box. Meanwhile, stay tuned Saturday for the next post in this series on Ways to Approach Great Literature.

WILLIAM BRADFORD: MR. NOVEMBER

the-landing-of-the-pilgrims-at-plymouth-currier-and-ives

(Repeat from November 2015)

Halloween is over and with November and the depressing time change in the U.S., our attention turns to the holidays ahead. And first up is Thanksgiving and the yearly looking back to our Pilgrim forebears.

Many years ago I used to pull down my old Classics Club volume of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation every November and read through it. So I just pulled down my beloved Classics Club edition once again. How many of you subscribed to those old Classics Club editions back when?

classics-club-insert-images

Anyway, those of you who love Great Literature, if you need a reason to spend a few minutes every week really getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving, then join me during November as we look at the most famous document of Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims.

The actual book is quite a read, truthfully, so I am just going to look a few of the most famous passages. But here is the link to the full text at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950.

If you go back to really old textbook anthologies of American Literature, you will

often find them beginning the literature of the United States with William Bradford. Who knows, maybe some books still begin American Literature with Bradford and the New England Pilgrims.

That’s crazy, of course. I mean, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. By 1620 Santa Fe, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas were already flourishing American cities with intellectual cultures developing. Columbus, of course, had already written of his voyages. Thomas Harriot had written A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Perhaps, more striking, the tribal peoples of North America had long been developing a dynamic and powerful literature for centuries. Surely, all these peoples were Americans. Oh well. Messy facts too often detract from wonderful and sentimental traditions.

Accordingly, William Bradford was one of the greatest of colonial Americans, a man large in spirit and wisdom, wholly consecrated to a mission of which he regarded himself as an instrument of God. The early history of Plymouth Colony was the history of his leadership, and, in fact, tiny Plymouth occupies a position in history wholly incommensurate with its size.

Like the patriarchs of the Old Testament, William Bradford in History Of Plymouth Plantation “recorded God’s ‘choosing’ of His people, their exile, and their wanderings”

November is the month we celebrate the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock in the American Thanksgiving tradition. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving month by taking a look at William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.

WHY NOT ASK QUESTIONS WILLIAM BRADFORD NEVER INTENDED US TO ASK ABOUT HIS HISTORY OF THE PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS?

ec25823a0c61b61b2acab54294d327a8

It’s the month for Thanksgiving in the U.S., and I hope you have joined us as we have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last two postings just to get a context for this post. Throughout the month I am breaking with my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule and posting much more frequently.

Last time I gave a short overview of Bradford’s book. If you want to read it all and really get into the spirit of Thanksgiving and of November, click here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950. But I was thinking about how Bradford would have liked his readers to respond to his story. And for most of postcolonial American history readers pretty well accepted Bradford’s story as he intended.

We are not his intended readers, though. We are all Postmoderns whether we like it or not and our ways are not his ways. What any given author intended is not really that relevant for us. We see the words on the page and we read them through our own post-paradigm shift.

So, let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask. I am breaking this article into two parts. Stay tuned.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

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