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The Story upon a Hill, The Story upon a Hill, 0817319476, 0-8173-1947-6, 978-0-8173-1947-2, 9780817319472, , , The Story upon a Hill, 0817391231, 0-8173-9123-1, 978-0-8173-9123-2, 9780817391232,

The Story upon a Hill
The Puritan Myth in Contemporary American Fiction
Christopher Leise

Trade Cloth
224 pp.
Price:  $49.95 s
E Book
224 pp.
Price:  $49.95 d

In this provocative and thought-provoking volume, Christopher Leise sheds new light on modern American novelists who question not only the assumption that Puritans founded New England—and, by extension, American identity—but also whether Puritanism ever existed in the United States at all.

The Story upon a Hill: The Puritan Myth in Contemporary American Fiction analyzes the work of several of the most important contemporary writers in the United States as reinterpreting commonplace narratives of the country’s origins with a keen eye on the effects of inclusion and exclusion that Puritan myths promote. In 1989, Ronald Reagan recalled the words of Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop, who imagined the colony as a “city upon a hill” for future nations to emulate. In Reagan’s speech, Winthrop’s signature rhetoric became an emblem of American idealism, and for many Americans, the Puritans’ New England was the place where the United States forged its original identity.
But what if Winthrop never gave that speech? What if he did not even write it? Historians cannot definitively answer these questions. In fact, no group that we refer to as American Puritans thought of themselves as Puritans. Rather, they were a group of dissident Christians often better defined by their disagreements than their shared beliefs.
Literary scholars interested in Anglo-American literary production from the seventeenth century through the present, historians, and readers interested in how ideas about Christianity circulate in popular culture will find fascinating the ways in which William Gaddis, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, and Marilynne Robinson repurpose so-called Puritan forms of expression to forge a new narrative of New England’s Congregationalist legacy in American letters. Works by Colson Whitehead, Paul Auster, Toni Morrison, and others are also considered. The Story upon a Hill raises a provocative question: if the Puritans never existed as we understand them, what might American history look like in that context?

Christopher Leise is an associate professor of English at Whitman College and the coeditor of Pynchon’s “Against the Day”: A Corrupted Pilgrim’s Guide and William Gaddis, “The Last of Something”: Critical Essays.

"Leise traces the acknowledgment and reinterpretation of the “Puritan myth"—the idea that true American identity developed directly from aspects of New England Puritanism—through several American novels of the last half century. He describes the long-lasting effect of the Puritan myth as an exclusionary notion of American exceptionalism: that America is the “city upon a hill” (a term coined in 1630 by John Winthrop) and that only those Americans who match supposed Puritan ideals (e.g., white and Christian) possess a truly American essence. Leise goes on to examine how postmodern/contemporary authors—among them Kurt Vonnegut (in Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969) and Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973) tackle this notion, and he argues that in their explorations of myriad hypocrisies and alternatives to the long-standing, singular Puritan myth, these authors demonstrate its falseness and promote rounder versions of the history of America and of Puritanism. Interwoven with interesting, little-known facts, Leise’s thorough analyses provide a wealth of fascinating literary, cultural, and historical knowledge. Leise references additional reading in extensive endnotes and in the works cited. This book will doubtlessly inspire further scholarship on this subject. Highly recommended."

“I know of no other critic who could bring together in this fashion the theologies of early New England and contemporary novels.”
—Kathryn Hume, author of Pynchon's Mythography: An Approach to “Gravity's Rainbow” and American Dream, American Nightmare: Fiction since 1960

“The Story upon a Hill takes up a satisfyingly broad and representative range of postmodern texts—literary, religious, and political—that echo, reframe, or critique both the American Northeast’s original Eurocentric religiosity and its intermediate literary interpreters from the captivity narratives to Hawthorne and beyond. Christopher Leise pays proper attention to the ways in which this heritage has elbowed aside other regions and other creeds that have figured in the evolution of Americanness. This is an impressive and highly readable piece of scholarship.”
—David Cowart, author of Tribe of Pyn: Literary Generations in the Postmodern Period and Thomas Pynchon and the Dark Passages of History

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