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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."

--award citation


"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."

--Christopher Hill, in The New York Review of Books

". . . ambitious in conception and successful in execution. . . . Stavely's analytical movement between persons, places, periods, and genres is . . . always bold, skillful, and original."

--William and Mary Quarterly

"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."

--American Literature

"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."

--Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"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."

--Seventeenth-Century News

"Stavely's analysis is sophisticated, and his arguments are consistently provocative and interesting."

--Religious Studies Review