Monday, May 29, 2006

Observations from Oldtown Folks

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Oldtown Folks is her most professedly historical novel. In it, questions of narrative voice are at their most complex. The narrator, "Horace Holyoke," writes in his preface:

Though Calvinist, Arminian, High-Church Episcopalian, sceptic and simple believer all speak in their turn, I merely listen and endeavor to understand and faithfully represent the inner life of each. I myself am but the observer and reporter, seeing much, doubting much, questioning much, and believing with all my heart in only a very few things. ("Preface" Library of America edition, p. 884).

And with that fair warning, let me cite a few of her/his most memorable observations.

Here, in chaper 29, "My Grandmother's Blue Book," he discusses the theology of Jonathan Edwards, President of Princeton College:

President Edwars had constructed a marvellous piece of logic to show that, while true virtue in man consisted in supreme devotion to the general good of all, true virtue in God consisted in supreme regard for himself. This "Treatise on True Virtue" was one of the strongest attempts to back up by reasoning the old monarchical and aristocratic ideas of the supreme right of the king and upper classes. The whole of it falls to dust before the one simple declaration of Jesus Christ, that, in the eyes of Heaven, one lost sheep is more prized than all the ninety and nine that went not astry, and before the parable in which the father runs, forgetful of parental prerogative and dignity, to cast himself on the neck of the far-off prodigal.

Theology being human and a reflection of human infirmities, nothing is more common than for it to come up point-blank in opposition to the simplest declarations of Christ (Library of America edition, p. 1247).