Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible Hardcover – February 28, 2010
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Among the many English translations of the Bible, a single one is responsible for the shape of some of the most iconic works of American literature, argues Alter, a comparative literature professor at University of California, Berkeley. Focusing not on the application of specific content but rather on the more elusive matter of style, Alter, author of more than 20 books, shows how the King James Version (especially its Old Testament) informed the work of Melville, Faulkner, Hemingway, Bellow, Marilynne Robinson, and Cormac McCarthy. Alter's knowledge of Hebrew and its translation in the KJV combined with his sensitivity to the sound and form of the distinctly American Moby-Dick, Absalom, Absalom! and The Road, among others, yield rich insights. By his own admission, Alter may be accused of occasionally overreaching associations. However, even if readers are unconvinced by some of the author's claims, they will find in this book a compelling case for style. Alter masterfully demonstrates how style itself affects and even conveys the meaning and power of great literature. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"As a leading scholar and translator of the Bible, who is also deeply knowledgeably about American literature, Robert Alter is ideally suited to study this complicated inheritance. . . . Pen of Iron makes a convincing case that it is impossible to fully appreciate American literature without knowing the King James Bible--indeed, without knowing it almost instinctively, the way generations of Americans used to know it."--Adam Kirsch, New Republic
"In Pen of Iron, the eminent Bible scholar and translator Robert Alter recounts a small yet telling part of the story of American literature's attunement to the King James Bible. Exploring the way the KJB has impacted both the prose and worldviews of select American authors--mainly Lincoln, Melville, Faulkner, Hemingway, Bellow, and Cormac McCarthy--Alter shows that, even when they parody it or contend with its legacies (as Melville and Faulkner did), the King James Bible remains an enduring point of reference, if not a moral center of gravity, in their work."--Robert Pogue Harris, New York Review of Books
"Alter's short book spins off enough sparkling asides to inspire a shelf of very long volumes. . . . [T]he result is a treasure of insight and a welcome stimulus to Christian reflection."--Mark Noll, Books & Culture
"Alter's book is tightly focused and sweeping in the specificity of its claims. He takes a commonplace of conventional wisdom--the ubiquity the Bible once had in American elite culture--to argue that the King James translation created 'the foundational language and symbolic imagery' of the whole of American culture, especially its prose fiction."--David E. Anderson, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly
"Pen of Iron is a work of lofty literary scholarship, and Alter is addressing a readership that already speaks his language and is ready to receive his wisdom. Indeed, the book is based on a series of lectures that Alter delivered at Princeton University in 2008. But it is also true to say that he is not unlike a biblical prophet, speaking truth to the power of the popular culture and exhorting us to be better and more discerning reader."--Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
"Alter's intelligent treatments of several major works--principally Moby-Dick, Absalom, Absalom!, Seize the Day, and Marilynne Robinson's justly applauded novel Gilead (2004)--does more than simply explain allusions to biblical texts. He is interested in the ways in which American writers incorporate the stylistic traits of the King James Version for their own purposes, even when they are not themselves rooted in a Christian or biblical world view."--Barton Swaim, New Criterion
"This well-written, thought-provoking book doesn't take too long to read."--Christian Century
"Pen of Iron, which reads like a collection of essays, expands our understanding of how the King James Version of the Old Testament has influenced American fiction. Even more, Alter demonstrates the power the style of the translation had on the work of many of our most important writers."--Nancy Coffey Hefferman, Anglican And Episcopal History
"Robert Alter is one of our most astute readers of both sacred and secular texts."--Ralph C. Wood, Journal of Church and State
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
Alter defines the influence of the King James Bible in two ways: As a rich source of ideas, images, and metaphors about God and man, and as a manual of style for a distinctive, classical way of writing. Alter pursues his thesis through a series of examples spanning American literature: Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick", William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!, Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day", Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises", Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead", and Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."
In each example, Alter traces elements of plot, language and style back to the bedrock of the King James Bible. As American culture has become more secular, these associations have become less distinct, but Alter argues the King James Bible continues to have an influence as part of our common literary heritage.
Alter writes for the well-informed student of American Literature; the general reader may find this short volume a dry read. However, "Pen of Iron" is highly recommended to its intended audience.
Alter's chapter on Moby Dick is truly and particularly brilliant, and one of the best things written on The Whale in the last half-century. Alter gets Melville's voice, he truly digs it, and he lets his light shine in a way that will deepen every reader's experience. His chapter on Faulkner is merely wonderful, but the chapter on Bellow and the discussion of Lincoln in the preface each challenge those Melvillian peaks.
If you are going to read contemporary literary criticism, put Alter on top of your list. I can think of only one other living American critic I would put on his level, and her focus is not the American corpus.
Alter is a bit of an elitist, and seems to really like no writer or book wholeheartedly. He is pedantic, his favorite word is recondite, which means esoteric or difficult, which could very well characterize his analysis and prose. But Alter should be read. He should be read carefully and slowly. Few can delve into a topic as deeply and richly as he does. And in this book, which is really only a few quick snapshots of how the King James version of the bible enriched American literature, we can see his well-read, well-reasoned mind working at its best.
Although this book my not be the last word on this topic, it provides much food for thought.