The Puritan Origins of the American Self


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With a New Preface

Sacvan Bercovitch; With a New Preface by the Author

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“Perhaps the most penetrating examination yet published of ‘the sources of our obsessive concern with the meaning of America.’”—Jack P. Greene, History

“The most valuable achievement in colonial American literature since the best work of Perry Miller.”—David Levin, William and Mary Quarterly

“A brave and brilliant book…that is the most significant and far-reaching contribution to the theory of American literature in recent years.”—Alan Trachtenberg, Partisan Review

“A study which reaches with daring ease from the Bible and Augustine to Emerson and Whitman… [and] offers an agenda for the next several decades of scholarly work on colonial religious studies.”—John F. Wilson, Theology Today

“[Bercovitch] casts a dazzling light on the myth of America and the conundrums of individuality and community that are the core of the American character.”—Michael Zuckerman, Early American Literature

"An utterly intriguing and finely nuanced study that deserves the careful attention of anyone who ponders the meaning of 'the American character.'"—Richard John Neuhaus, Review of Books and Religion

"By showing how the New England Puritans developed a 'rhetoric of American identity,' Bercovitch is accounting for that indefinable purposiveness that has so long fascinated observers of our national life. . . . He follows the development of this 'symbolic mode' . . . from the 17th-century Puritans to the era of Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin and, in a brief but highly suggestive chapter, to the great flowering of the sacralized image of America in the age of Emerson and Lincoln."—Leo Marx, New York Times Book Review

"On the American Puritans as generative and shaping [Bercovitch's book] is both original and profound."—David Minter, The Georgia Review

"Bercovitch convincingly gets us from the New England Mind of the seventeenth century down to the National
Consciousness of the nineteenth. We learn that America's intellectual beginnings are more complicated than they have been made to seem and that Puritan hermeneutics has a long and vigorous after-life in the history of American self-consciousness and symbolism. This could be the book about 'the matter of Puritanism' from our generation."—Michael Colacurcio

"Bercovitch is without question a critic of the first rank: learned, original in the richest sense of the word, and armed with a rhetorical strategy that makes this book become increasingly exciting."—David Hall

"An utterly intriguing and finely nuanced study that deserves the careful attention of anyone who ponders the meaning of the 'American Character,' Bercovitch . . . focuses on Cotton Mather's 'Life of John Winthrop' in 'Magnalia Christi Americana.' . . . An eminently worthwhile book."—Richard John Neuhaus, Review of Books and Religion

"This rigorously argued volume is perhaps the most penetrating examination yet published of 'the sources of our obsessive concern with the meaning of America.' . . . [Bercovitch] sets forth his thesis—that 'the myth of America is the creation of the New England Way'—with subtlety and force."—Jack Green, History

"The most valuable achievement in colonial American literature since the best work of Perry Miller."—David Levin, William and Mary Quarterly

"With the publication of this study of Puritan historical biography, . . . Bercovitch assures his place at the forefront of Puritan studies. . . . [This is] an original and provocative exploration not just of a Puritan literary form but of the whole mode of national self-consciousness in America—of what Bercovitch calls the rhetoric of American identity."—Michael Bell, Chronicle of Higher Education

"That the Puritan influence enjoyed a long afterlife [in American culture and literature] is persuasively demonstrated by Bercovitch's important and exciting book."—Frederick V. Mills, Sr., The Christian Century

"The appearance of Puritan Origins of the American Self marks the maturation of the third 'generation' of modern scholarship in American Puritanism."—Howard Segal, New England Quarterly

"The Puritan Origins of the American Self is . . . a book with complex and fascinating ideas . . . that will endure repeated readings. Bercovitch has fully demonstrated the richness of the seventeenth-century New England imagination and has considerably deepened our understanding of the rhetoric of American identity."—Yasuhide Kawashina, Reviews in American History

"Well written and deeply learned, this is not merely a book about the Puritans but a demonstration of how the Puritan concept of the individual self and the federal mission ultimately became the basis of the American sense of selfhood and nationhood. While Bercovitch opens with a discussion of Cotton Mather's biography of John Winthrop, Nehemias Americanus, his real point is to demonstrate how the Puritan qualities in Mather's conception of Winthrop finally manifest themselves in Emerson. It has often been generalized that Emerson is a Puritan manqué, but Bercovitch's treatise is the fullest and most convincing proof of this generalization that I have read. This book is a major work in American literary study."—Michael J. Hoffman, American Literary Scholarship

"Sacvan Bercovitch has provided historians with a stimulating exercise in Puritan and American exegesis. He is intent on apotheosizing 'the richness of the seventeenth-century New England imagination' through an analysis of 'the rhetoric of American identity.' What emerges is a Puritan-American apologia of the first order."—Joseph V. Metzgar, The Historian

"Professor Bercovitch . . . in The Puritan Origins of the American Self, concerns himself intensely with what he persuasively shows to be the central fusion of the [American Puritan] myth. . . . A keen and widely informed scholar bearing in on an important text and extracting a valuable lesson."—Larzer Ziff, London Times Literary Supplement

"A major analysis of the Puritan imagination, a foundation for fresh readings of the later American writers, a provocative thesis about the source of the concept of American identity. . . . Bercovitch's Puritan Origins [has] . . . reached a new pinnacle in Puritan scholarship from which to survey our literary and cultural heritage."—Emory Elliott, Gradiva

"Bercovitch has written a study of the first importance. Since Perry Miller's The New England Mind, no scholar has provided such an exciting analysis of the Puritan impact on America, an analysis which should provide useful insights into American history and literature for many years."—J. W. Raimo, Journal of American Studies

"[Bercovitch] recovered the continuity of New England's testimony to the heathen—one sustained apprehension of the redeemed and redemptive community, changing only in worldly objectives or expectations and their relation to a theological ground."—M. E. Bradford, National Review

"While its interest to American literature specialists is great, Bercovitch addresses a wider readership, including comparatists. . . . But ultimately Bercovitch's concern is rhetoric and the imagination, or rather the nature of the peculiarly American rhetoric inherited from the Puritans, in the American artist's 'denial of secular history'  and his substitution of prophecy for experience."—Everett Emerson, Comparative Literature Studies

"[Bercovitch's] amazing grasp and understanding of Christian thought and literature and Puritan writings and scholarship enable him not only to delineate significant aspects of Puritan thought but also to evaluate it in the light of the larger Western tradition. This is a first-rate piece of scholarship by a scholar of the highest order."—Choice

"The Puritan Origins of the American Self is an important book. . . . A major reinterpretation of the beginnings of American life. . . . [It] does much to explain how we got here, and how our literature came to be as it is."—Ormond Seavey, The Nation

"A brilliant analysis . . . [which] every colonialist should read."—Richard Beale Davis, The Key Reporter

"A brave and brilliant book . . . that is the most significant and far-reaching contribution to the theory of American literature in recent years."—Alan Trachtenburg, Partisan Review

"Sacvan Bercovitch has here provided us the most detailed demonstration to date that the Puritan errand in the wilderness pointed America toward Walden Pond, in one direction, and toward the Pacific Ocean, in the other, that it yielded both a transcendent sense of Self and the notion of Manifest Destiny. . . . Mr. Bercovitch's (like Mather's) is a virtuoso performance, a brilliant display of learning in the service of ideas, supporting by detailed documentation a series of generalities regarding the course of Puritan thought in America, drawing upon (and distinguishing between) the theological literature of both New and Old England."—John Seelye, American Literature

"In this brilliant book . . . Sacvan Bercovitch traces the American concept of the American Self from its origins in seventeenth-century New England Puritanism to its mythic and transcendent apotheosis in Emersonian mysticism. This development . . . is fascinating and at times intellectually shocking, and Bercovitch tells the story with learning and understanding. . . . A great deal of distinguished scholarly activity in the American Puritan period has been going on in the last twenty years and Bercovitch's book is representative of the very best."—Donald E. Stanford, Early American Literature

"At the center of Bercovitch's study is a thesis that the unique sense of self in relationship to society derives from contradictions in Reformed Protestantism, the intellectual tradition of colonial America. . . . Justice cannot be done in these few sentences to the richness of Bercovitch's materials or to the stimulating subtlety of his argument."—John F. Wilson, Theology Today

"This is a profoundly important book. . . . Bercovitch has provided a bold and exciting new statement of the Puritan genius. the heart of the book is a careful and creative analysis of Cotton Mather's life of John Winthrop, Nehemias Americanus, which is reprinted and fully annotated in an appendix; but Bercovitch's rich research in both Old and New England Puritanism amplifies his conclusions. . . . Bercovitch's book is an eloquent achievement, guaranteed to attract the attention and criticism it warrants."—Religious Studies Review

"Bercovitch's latest work, The Puritan Origins of the American Self, is an impressive, scholarly, and demanding book which draws not only on literature but on religion, sociology, philosophy, and semantics. . . . The volume has considerable merit. . . . He has explored the whole range of Mather's extensive writing. . . . The book is an exhaustive study of the development of the concept of American identity, dealing with the Puritan achievement in its broadest cultural framework. . . . This is a book with complex and fascinating ideas that reflects the author's extensive knowledge and keen insight and that will endure repeated reading. Bercovitch has fully demonstrated the richness of the seventeenth-century New England imagination and has considerable deepened our understanding of the rhetoric of American identity."—Reviews in American History

"Professor Bercovitch's excellent book . . . is a learned, skillful and cogent presentation of a significant feature of American culture."—William J. Scheick, Thought

"The Puritan Origins of the American Self is an important book because it proposes a major reinterpretation of the the beginnings of American life. . . . Bercovitch tries to recover a mode of perceiving history and psychology which has become reflexive and unconscious in American experience."—The Nation

“The issuing of The Puritan Origins of the American Self, with a fascinating new preface by Sacvan Bercovitch, is an occasion for celebration. A landmark contribution to American studies, the book is also a model, still vital and generative after many years, for any attempt to analyze the ideological dream-life upon which nations are founded. Bercovitch has an uncanny ability to be at once knowing and innocent, a sophisticated master of the textual archive and a wide-eyed stranger, like Kafka’s Max Rossmann, amazed by what he is witnessing on the shores of the New World. A major and enduring achievement.”—Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

The Puritan Origins of the American Self is a classic text for American studies, and the splendid new preface makes it available for new generations. Known for its wide learning, clear and compelling prose, and above all for the strength of its twin arguments about the continuity of national culture and the flexible shape of American ideology, Bercovitch's book continues to be essential reading.”—Michael Warner, Seymour H. Knox Professor of English, Yale University

“Now reissued with a powerful new preface by the author that extends the argument through the scholarly waves of the past three decades, this American Studies classic makes a compelling and provocative case for continuities in the rhetoric of America from Puritanism to our own times.”—Werner Sollors, Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies.Harvard University

“Sacvan Bercovitch’s insights about the formative power of the Puritan imagination remain as fresh and relevant in the post-9/11 world as they were in 1975, when he shaped a field of study. No one better understands than Bercovitch both the imaginative hold of the nation form and its intrinsic instability in a global network of allegiances and affiliations “—Priscilla Wald, Professor of English, Duke University

“Now framed by a luminous new Preface, this book offers something still too rare: a brilliant and boldly erudite interpretation of America’s distinctiveness that is not exceptionalist but comparative.”—Jonathan Arac, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh

ISBN: 9780300172416
Publication Date: May 31, 2011
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4