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Posts Tagged ‘Isabel Rivers’

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Vanity Fair and the Celestial City

Isabel Rivers, Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Isabel_RiversThose who judge books by their titles may have failed to appreciate that this one deals extensively with Edwards and his world. It explores the publications written, edited, abridged, and promoted by evangelicals in eighteenth-century England. And Edwards was an eighteenth-century Englishman, remember, a colonist who read and even wrote many publications treated in these pages.

A Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture at Queen Mary University of London, Isabel Rivers also directs the Dissenting Academies Project hosted by the Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English. She is one of the leading authorities on the literary culture that shaped the life and work of Edwards.

The title of her book is taken from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, whose pilgrims have to pass through Vanity Fair, a tourist trap full of commercial temptations, to reach their final destination, Celestial City, the heavenly New Jerusalem. Rivers uses Bunyan’s allegory to indicate a paradox that saturates her book. “On one hand, Pilgrim’s Progress, like so many books of its kind, advocates rejection of this world for the sake of the next, using the metaphor of trade. On the other hand, the phenomenal success of such books in the eighteenth century depended on a number of worldly factors, clearly interrelated, including the expansion of the book trade, the growth of the population, the increase of literacy, and better conditions for travel and commerce, both within the British Isles and Europe and also between Europe and North America” (p. 2). She is interested, of course, in her subjects’ spirituality, but focuses her story on the “worldly factors” instead, asking questions about their bearing on evangelical religion and the literary lives of early English evangelicals.

Her book has three parts. Part I, “Books and Their Readers” (pp. 9-117), treats the publishing, marketing, and reception of religious books in eighteenth-century England. Part II, “Sources” (pp. 121-209), deals with the re-publication of older works in this period. And Part III, “Literary Kinds” (pp. 213-389), catalogues the different genres most important to its book trade (Bibles, commentaries, sermons, devotional guides, exemplary lives, journals, hymns, poems, etc.). Rivers mentions over 200 writers altogether, offering detailed discussions of her subjects’ favorite books. Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, John Wesley, and John Newton were the most popular authors in eighteenth-century England. But Edwards and his mentee David Brainerd also proved to be consistent best sellers.

Edwards appears throughout the book, but mainly in chapter 7, “North American Connexions” (pp. 183-209), particularly in the section of that chapter devoted to him (pp. 186-93). Rivers writes of Edwards and Brainerd, “they were the source of considerable disagreement among their British readers, but they were of crucial importance in different ways to the religious and literary heritage of Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Scottish Presbyterians, and Church of England evangelicals” (pp. 185-86). They were even more important in the North American colonies.

Rivers does not interpret Edwards in relation to church history, English intellectual culture, or Protestant theology. But she does better than anyone at placing him in the context of the history of the book trade and the reading lives of Christians in eighteenth-century England. Vanity Fair and the Celestial City offers a masterful, England-centered complement to Jonathan Yeager’s Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture.

Andrew Fuller Conference | September 21-22, 2018

Andrew-Fuller-Conference-2018

 

The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany at Heidelberg University will co-host a conference on Biblical Interpretation and Early Transatlantic Evangelicalism.

The speakers include the conference hosts: the Director of the JE Center Germany, Jan Stievermann, and the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center, Michael Haykin. Joining them is a team of world-class scholars in the field (including notable Edwards scholars): Douglas Sweeney, Ken Minkema, Isabel Rivers, Bruce Hindmarsh, Crawford Gribben, Adriaan Neele, and Robert Brown.

The objective of the conference aims to bring the historiography of early transatlantic evangelicalism together with the history of biblical interpretation. The goal is to understand the exegesis of various eighteenth-century exegetes in their intellectual, cultural, and religious contexts.

To learn more about the conference speakers, schedule, and to register, visit the conference website.

Conference Website >