Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World

ISBN : 9780199643936

Kathleen Lynch
336 Pages
146 x 221 mm
Pub date
Mar 2012
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Autobiographical narrative is seldom viewed as a catalyst for the social and political upheavals of mid-seventeenth-century England and its colonies. Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World argues that it should be. Focusing on the inward search for signs of election as a powerful stimulus for new, written forms of self-identification, this study directs critical attention toward the collective processes through which 'truthful' texts of spiritual experience were constructed, validated, and endorsed. This new analysis of the rhetoric of authentic selfhood emphasizes the ways in which personal accounts of religious awakening became another opportunity to conceptualize experience as an authorizing principle. A broad spectrum of Protestant life-writing is explored, from Augustine's Confessions, first translated into English in 1620, through John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) and Richard Baxter's Reliquiae Baxterianae (1696). The forms in which these landmark texts were circulated and the interests that those circulations served are examined in such a way as to put canonical texts back into conversation with the outpouring of individual life writings that dates from the middle of the 17th century on. As the first new historicized account of the seventeenth-century Protestant conversion narrative in a generation, Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World contributes to the reintegration of the scholarly fields of literature, religion, and politics. It revitalizes the study of proto-literary forms which, while devotional in nature, were deeply political in their consequences, contributing as they did to the emerging discourse of personal liberties.


Abbreviations and conventions
List of illustrations
Introduction: No self is an island: The validations of autobiographical truths
1. Any politic body: The polemics of conversion in the 1620s
2. Icons basilicae: Civil war and religious identity
3. 1653: Experiencing election in a true gospel-church state
4. Writing religious identities in Bedford: Exemplary lives in historical perspective
5. Beyond the lives of particular men
Conclusion: Truth and consequences

About the author: 

Kathleen Lynch is Executive Director of the Folger Institute. She has written on the religious literature of the seventeenth century from the perspectives of material culture and the book trade.

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