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.
"From a premiere scholar of early American literature, Godly Letters is a masterful study of New England Puritan theology and literature. With wit, humor, and a full command of the scholarship, Colacurcio's analysis of the complex thought and verbal artistry of the writers reveals their remarkable subtlety, intellectual tenacity, and powerful religious convictions, all of which have had a lasting impact on the culture of the United States. This book is a landmark in American Studies research. " —Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside, author of the Cambridge Introduction to Early American Literature
"Michael J. Colacurcio's monumental commentary is a signal contribution to scholarship on early American literature and culture. Colacurcio is the first to present a genuinely comprehensive account of first-generation thought and expression—one that analyzes these writers seriously but critically in their own religious terms. With consummate skill and understanding, Colacurcio achieves this ambitious goal." —John Gatta, University of Connecticut and Sewanee: The University of the South
"Michael Colacurcio is a brilliant reader and a prodigious storyteller. He elucidates the theological, political, economic, and social issues that shaped 'the (not quite canonical) books of New England's first Puritan generation,' revealing what was at stake for these writers, and showing why their narratives are so compelling. Colacurcio's account of John Cotton's debates with his colleagues offers the clearest and subtlest account yet written of the theological complexities underlying the Antinomian Controversy, but also captures the rhetorical energy—and the readerly pleasure—of the ministers' sometimes impatient exchanges. Through readings both witty and sympathetic, Colacurcio reveals the poignancy and the poetry of New England's 'godly letters.'" —Lisa Gordis, Barnard College