Paul Stevens will be presenting his paper, ‘Heartwork: John Bunyan, the First World War and the Politics of Grace’ at 5.15pm on Tuesday, 23 November 2010. The talk will take place in the Cardiff Humanities Building, Room 2.48.
The pervasive influence of Pilgrim’s Progress on so much literature of the Great War is well known, but Bunyan’s text is usually treated as a repository for somewhat predictable images of the war’s irredeemable hopelessness—‘waste and horror and loss and fear’, in Paul Fussell’s words. Many of Bunyan’s soldier–readers were, however, much more assiduous and deeply engaged in the dissenter’s complex text than this view allows. What they seem to have discovered in Pilgrim’s Progress was an understanding of the religious concept of grace unusually well-suited to their political and psychological needs. In this talk, Paul Stevens will first try to show how distinctive Bunyan’s model of grace was in its original 17th-century context by comparing it with that of another contemporary dissenter, John Milton, and then how Bunyan’s model as ‘heartwork’ enabled soldiers as diverse as R. H. Tawney and Siegfried Sassoon to come to a radically new understanding of their experience, an understanding that eventually helped encourage a transformation in Britain’s national imaginary or understanding of itself.
About the speaker
Paul Stevens is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Early Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Toronto and Fellow of Trinity College, Toronto. His area of specialty is 17th-century English literature, especially the works of John Milton. Former President of the Milton Society of America and Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, his most recent book is Early Modern Nationalism and Milton’s England, co-edited with David Lowenstein, which won the 2009 Irene Samuel Memorial Prize. He is currently completing a book provisionally called Sola Gratia: Early Modern English Literature and the Political Ways of Grace. He was born in Cardiff and went to St Illtyd’s College before going on to university. His first career was in the British Army hence his interest in Bunyan and the First World War. He served as a soldier in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and later as an officer in the Royal Regiment of Wales. He commanded a rifle platoon on the streets in Northern Ireland and among his last duties was guarding the Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess in Spandau Jail, Berlin.