In Godly Letters, Michael J. Colacurcio analyzes a treasury of works written by the first generation of seventeenth-century American Puritans. Arguing that insufficient scrutiny has been given this important oeuvre, he calls for a reevaluation of the imaginative and creative qualities of America's early literature of inspired ecclesiological experiment, one that focuses on the quality of the works as well as the demanding theology they express.
Colacurcio gives a detailed, richly contextualized account of the meaning of these "godly letters" in rhetorical, theological, and political terms. From his close readings of the major texts by the first generation of Puritans—including William Bradford, Thomas Hooker, Edward Johnson, John Winthrop, Thomas Shepard, and John Cotton—he expertly illuminates qualities other studies have often overlooked. In his words, close study of the literature yields work "comprehensive, circumspect, determined subtle, energetic, relentlessly intellectual, playful in spite of their cultural prohibitions, in spite of themselves, even, they are in every way remarkable products of a culture that . . . assigned an extraordinarily high place to the life of words." Magisterial in sweep, Godly Letters is likely to stand as the definitive work on the Puritan literary achievement.