on September 24, 2013
I reviewed the Oxford World's Classics print version of this book back in 2004. Alas, Amazon (or, probably, its software) not only has not connected the reviews from that paperback to the matching OWC Kindle edition, it has left them high and dry on a duplicate product page, which claims that only used copies of the in-print paperback are available.
I can't do anything about most of the dozen or so reviews left stranded there, some of them excellent (except refer you to them), but I can post a slight revision of my own treatment, concluding with some comments on how the E-book version differs from the print edition (which was the point of my original plan, before I discovered the odd discrepancy).
Fortunately, neither page has (obvious) reviews of other editions in the mix -- a serious problem with some other pages, where in many instances one has little idea of exactly which form of the book is being reviewed. (And there is considerable room for confusion. Both Kobo and Kindle offer sixty-some digital versions -- I haven't bothered to check NOOK or other formats, or count hardcovers and paperbacks, many out of print.)
John Bunyan was an astonishing man, a working-class genius who, while producing the last great medieval-style allegories in English, helped invent the English novel, apparently without intending either. The bulk of his writings fell into the obscurity of most seventeenth century theological tractates, but a few have remained current, and "The Pilgrim's Progress" (1678) has been of outstanding importance, for a variety of reasons. It was an immediate popular success, even appearing in French and Dutch editions within a few years, and being reprinted in Puritan Boston, where Bunyan's Baptist teachings would have been unwelcome. The second (1678) and third (1679) printings contained expansions.
A fraudulent "Second Part" helped motivate Bunyan to produce his own sequel (1684), usually published with the First Part ever since. (There have been separate editions, some currently available in digital form.) This new set of adventures concerns the family which "Christian," the original Pilgrim, left behind in his own journey to the Celestial City. (This being an allegory, he was represented as literally following one of Christ's injunctions -- but readers aware of Bunyan's biography will recall that during his imprisonment he had, rather literally, "abandoned" his real family.)
"The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which is to Come" is, in fact, one of the most widely read works to come out of the era of the English Civil War, Restoration, and Glorious Revolution (which Bunyan did not live quite long enough to see). The number of actual readers, in English and many other languages, certainly exceeds those of Milton, Hobbes, or Locke, possibly all of them together. It is also one of the most misunderstood. In his own time Bunyan (1628-88) was regarded as a dangerous radical; he wrote the first part of "Pilgrim's Progress" while imprisoned for defying authority by refusing to promise to give up preaching. The issue was as much political and social as religious and ecclesiastical; the post-Restoration gentry could fear, but not accept or forgive, the pretensions of a social inferior. (In the age of panic over the "Papist Plot," Bunyan's treatment of the ramshackle "Giant Pope" as nearly harmless is striking: might it be read as an implied attack on the fear-mongering of the Anglican establishment? Perhaps not.)
In the late eighteenth century, William Blake still responded to Bunyan the religious and political Dissenter, and the theologically astute recognized him as expounding a particular doctrine, but distance in time increasingly made him seem not only pious, but even harmless. In the nineteenth century, "The Pilgrim's Progress," long seen as suitable reading for children, was available to the working class in cheap editions, with the approval of their "betters." It found a receptive readership; but it is now clear that many of those readers recognized, as George Bernard Shaw later said, that the sins and failings Bunyan attacked were mainly those of people with money and power. Or, at least, their allegorical representatives always seem to be, or behave like, landowners, merchants, and magistrates, while their victims are working men and women.
Bunyan was indeed mostly concerned with problems of salvation (by faith) and predestination (of which you can never be certain), but the allegorical universe Bunyan presents is solidly grounded in material and social reality. Each soul must seek salvation -- the message of self-help, which the proper Victorians loved. But the little community of believers, the congregation of the true faithful, carried another message for the working class -- Organize!
This Bunyan has yet to be fully digested by popular culture. There are still a multitude of complacent editions, variously inexpensive, lavish, abridged, retold, glossed theologically or linguistically, or otherwise brought into line with some perceived need, and marketed for (mainly Protestant) Christians in search of edification. (It has found many Catholic, and apparently, some Muslim readers, as well, which is another story.)
Those who need a full critical text of this famous work will consult Roger Sharrock's 1960 edition in the Oxford English Texts series, preferably in its revised printing of 1975, and probably in a library (so far as I can tell it is out of print). It was intended as a revision of a 1928 edition by J.B. Wharey, but it broke new ground in Bunyan studies, by returning to the earliest editions of the two parts whenever possible. This was extremely important in restoring the integrity of the text, for reasons I described years ago in a separate (now somewhat buried) review of Sharrock's very lightly modernized "popular version" for the Penguin Classics (1986, with revisions, 1987), originally in the Penguin English Library series (1965). Briefly, Sharrock restored Bunyan's speaking (or, more exactly, perhaps, *preaching*) style to a text which had been worked over in the interest of "proper grammar," sometimes without much regard for what Bunyan was saying in the seventeenth-century vernacular.
Those serious readers or students who wanted a reliable edition, but didn't need the full apparatus, used to have available another, closely related, edition: N.H. Keeble's adaptation of Sharrock's Oxford text for the World's Classics series (published by Oxford University Press; reissued under the Oxford World's Classics imprint). This was replaced in 2003 with the present edition by W.R. Owen, which replaces it in the Oxford World's Classics line, and is likewise based on Sharrock's work.
These Oxford popular editions follow Sharrock's critical text, in fact rather more closely than Sharrock's own Penguin edition -- Owens even with some additional reversions to first edition readings, where he finds them comprehensible without emendation. They offer introductions, chronologies, notes, and glossaries directed more to the common reader or student, explaining seventeenth-century history and theology, as well as explicating Bunyan's language. All three were admirable examples of scholarly editions adapted for the ordinary reader, which is helpful, because Sharrock's main edition seems to be out of print. Keeble's edition seemed to be available for through Amazon when Owens' first appeared, but Oxford, unlike Penguin, doesn't seem to keep multiple versions of a title in print in its "Classics" line. (From time to time it may show up second-hand -- possibly confused with its successor.)
[Note, February 2015: Thanks in part to Amazon's lumping together different editions, it slipped my notice that Penguin Classics released a new edition of "Pilgrim's Progress" in 2008. This one was edited by Roger Pooley.]
Since I then had copies of both the Penguin and the old World's Classics editions, I originally hesitated over acquiring Owen's new version. It offered an expansion of Keeble's chronology and notes, and a new introduction, with a bibliography consisting mainly of recent studies (from 1980 on). Definitely an improvement, although not a blockbuster. The big difference, however, is that Owens provides the only illustrations published with the text in Bunyan's lifetime, and the verse captions he provided to them. This is not only interesting; it provides some explicit statements about the text by the author, not otherwise readily available. The illustrations themselves are not impressive -- hardly in a class with those by Blake and Cruikshank, among many others of varying degrees of skill and insight. But they reflect a real, not imaginary, seventeenth-century environment, and are a worthwhile addition to the available evidence.
When I noticed the Kindle version of this edition, I wondered how one of the problems posed by "Pilgrim's Progress" had been handled. The book as originally published had two sets of marginal notes, one set made up of abbreviated Biblical references identifying Bunyan's more literal Biblical quotations and allusions, the other a set of comments on the narrative, some identifying allegorical figures, others serving as the equivalent of chapter-headings (often to very short "chapters"). These are usually presented in italics.
The Penguin Classics edition maintains the second set of marginal comments, but the Biblical citations, when included, appear as back-of-the book end-notes.
Owen's OWC edition, (like Keeble's edition before it), maintained both sets in their original positions. This arrangement is not readily compatible with Kindle single-column format (and isn't much used in print editions these days, either). Hyperlinking them (as was done to Owen's end-notes) was going to be an unmitigated distraction for the reader.
The compromise reached was to break up the text, with the citations and comments printed below them. This is not a perfect solution -- some sections run longer than a single Kindle "page" -- but I find it easy to get used to. One small problem is that the comments appear in roman, not italic, type, so the reader has to be careful not to confuse them (or the captions to the illustrations) with the main body of the text.