Puritan Legacies: Paradise Lost and the New England Tradition
by Keith Stavely
The Modern Language Association of America Prize for Independent Scholars, 1987
"Stavely provides a wealth of primary and secondary documentation for his work's challenging thesis, that 'in Paradise Lost Milton imagined the broad course of Anglo-American development down to the verge of our own day.' Focusing through Milton's great poem onto three seemingly varied episodes of New England history, he convinces the reader of the . . . value of thinking about early American culture through the formulations of a towering literary figure."
"Stavely's . . . analysis of the relationship of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost is the most brilliant and the most convincing that I have read anywhere. It is close reading in the best sense of the word . . . A very stimulating book, provoking thoughts about the present as well as the past."
". . . ambitious in conception and successful in execution. . . . Stavely's analytical movement between persons, places, periods, and genres is . . . always bold, skillful, and original."
"Stavely has . . . achieved a stunning success and written a work of lasting value. . . . his socio-biographical portraits of two New England representative men . . . are especially impressive and typify the high level of thought to be found elsewhere in this excellent, elegant, and politically committed book, a work which cannot be praised too much."
"Stavely is utterly convincing in relating the tension between enthusiasm and order in New England to a tension between autonomy and subordination in the role of the lay Puritan and in finding a paradigm for these paired tensions in the depiction of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. . . . Stavely takes very seriously both the historical determinants of literary texts and the partial but still real autonomy of the writer of Milton's stature, and thus offers a salutary model for studies of the relationship of history and literature."
"Stavely . . . provides us with a sophisticated, provocative, and illuminating analysis of the social production of literary texts and the potential of those texts not only to reflect, but to reflect upon or mediate contradictions within Puritan ideology."
"Stavely's analysis is sophisticated, and his arguments are consistently provocative and interesting."