The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England

The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England

The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England

The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England

Synopsis

We conventionally understand the book as a vessel for words, a place where the reader goes to have a private experience with written language. But readers' relationships with books are much more complex. In The Pilgrim and the Bee, Matthew P. Brown examines book culture and the rituals of reading in early New England, ranging across almanacs, commonplace books, wonder tales, funeral elegies, sermon notes, conversion relations, and missionary tracts. What emerges is a new understanding of the book at once as a material good, existing within the economies of buying, selling, giving, and receiving; as an object of reverence and a medium for the performance of reading; and as an organizational system for word, sound, and image.

The product of extensive archival research, The Pilgrim and the Bee brings together the disciplines of book studies and performance theory to reconsider the literary history of early America. Brown focuses on the reader's body, carefully studying reading practices during the first three generations of English settlement, with particular emphasis on the way such practices operated in the social rituals of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Understanding Puritanism as a style of piety predicated on access to texts, he describes a canon of texts (devotional "steady sellers") that, with the Bible, served as conduct literature for pious readers. These devotional manuals were reprinted and read frequently and helped to shape the social identities of gender, race, class, faith, and age. To Brown, seventeenth-century devotional readers are both pilgrims, treating texts as continuous narratives of redemptive journeying, and bees, treating texts as flowers or hives, as spatial objects where information is extracted and deposited discontinuously.

Excerpt

You have in your hand a book, which you are starting to read. Or had you already begun? You most likely encountered the title, on the spine or jacket, wondering perhaps about the inapposite figures and bearing patiently with the specialized, didactic, impacted—it’s a monograph after all—subtitle. You perhaps met these words again, with less patience, on the title page. But wait, you first may have read more of the book’s exterior, discovering a publishing house, an author’s name, a visual image perhaps relevant to the book’s themes, a summary of the book, and, maybe, blurbs. Did the summary say anything about bees? Good. You also felt—and feel—the book, its heft and creak, the stubble on a library binding, or the laminate sheen of a paperback. and then you opened it. Yet you were not here yet. You flipped through the blank endpapers, glanced at the copyright page and detected the work’s date, its Library of Congress subject headings, its edition number, ran back across the title page and arrived … Well, no, not here yet, because it is possible you skipped to the bibliography and index, looked to see if books or persons of concern appear in the main text. in the index, you may have come across the word “phenomenology.” I’m sorry. Still, no matter, you have found other books and ideas that were unexpected and which will, you hope, engage you. a turn to the table of contents: a chapter on fasting, you hate your diet, you don’t go there. Better to return to the back, reading the endnotes, scouring their tiny font for references to debates in literary history or for leads for your own, more interesting research. At some point you came to this paragraph.

A writer should be so lucky as to have a reader as attentive as the one I have just imagined. Your reading experience is perhaps nothing like the preceding paragraph, which is partly my point. Acts of reading are unique, and the activity of reading changes from context to context, historical moment to historical moment. But that my opening scenario might describe a set of shared practices used on this or other books— practices amounting themselves to a kind of reading—is, I hope, a reasonable claim. Unlike the individual reading act, these shared practices, while here depicted as a set of academic customs, are part of a larger so-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.