Academic journal article Bunyan Studies

Bunyan with Mandeville: Allegory, Originality and the Superseding of Collective Experience in the Pilgrim's Progress

Academic journal article Bunyan Studies

Bunyan with Mandeville: Allegory, Originality and the Superseding of Collective Experience in the Pilgrim's Progress

Article excerpt

How far does the action of The Pilgrim 's Progress advance into kinds of space which, by their nature, already imply the likelihood that its narrative agents will do certain kinds ofthing, or be caught up in certain kinds of occurrence?1 Or, conversely, how far does it advance into generically unknown spaces where the conditions of taking action have to be reconsidered by the reader at every new turn? I would suggest that Bunyan's narrative has behind it, through the force of cultural tradition, three main projections of a world that is already given to generic knowledge. The first comes from the conventions of romance and folktale: to see a narrative agent put on armour is to anticipate certain kinds of trial and adventure; to see this same figure fall into the clutches of a giant is to anticipate certain others which again have a recognisable generic profile; and so on.2 The second comes from allegorical tradition, as instanced by English texts which had extensive literary influence in Bunyan's era; it posits the existence of a historically founded, pragmatically developed and generally shared experience of living and taking action in the world which is there to inform individual life and action. The third, which has a certain complicity with the second, assumes human beings' sharing of a tangible, physical world which their collectively acquired experience, again, equips them to understand, inhabit successfully and, sometimes, shape to desired purposes.

It seems possible to say without more ado, and on the basis of judgements which readers and critics have familiarly made, that The Pilgrim 's Progress accepts and develops in its own fashion on the first of these projections of a knowable narrative world. The specific nature of Bunyan's reception and transformation of romance as a traditional mode is not our present concern.3 1 am, however, concerned with the second and third of these projections of a knowable world, and with Bunyan's decisive - in cultural context surprising, probably epochal - repudiation of them. The present essay will argue that The Pilgrim 's Progress bids to supersede and replace certain influential and very current assumptions about the availability of the world to forms of knowledge that might be yielded by common human experience - of living out one's life in it, and of living in it as a physical environment. I shall also suggest that Bunyan gains assistance in re-imagining the human cognitive relation to the world from an unexpected quarter, the famous fourteenth-century travel narrative attributed to the authorship of John Mandeville. The making of this connection becomes the more plausible, however, because a sequence from Mandeville's narrative evidently helped to form a part of Bunyan's.

It is convenient to begin by considering, as James Turner has in an influential essay,4 the contrast between the treatment of landscape offered by Bunyan and that offered by 'T.S.' - thought to be the Baptist minister Thomas Sherman - in his The Second Part of the Pilgrim 's Progress of 1682, a work written in explicit response to Bunyan's.5 Bunyan's narrative begins, as we know,

As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep.6

The opening passage in Sherman's text runs as follows:

The Spring being far advanced, the Meadows being Covered with a Curious Carpet of delightful Green, and the Earth Cloathed in Rich and Glorious Attire, to Rejoyce and Triumph for the Return of her Shining Bridegroom: The Healthful Air rendred more Pleasing and Delightful by the gentle Winds then breathed from the South, impregnated with the Exhilerating Fragrancy of the Variety of Flowers and odoriferous Plants over which they had passed; and every Blooming Bush, and Flourishing Grove plentifully stored with Winged Inhabitants, who with a delightful Harmony sweetly Sing forth their Makers Praise and Warble out their Joyful Welcomes to the Gaudy Spring. …

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