Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"New" schools of thought on Puritan sexuality?

I have a really good book here by Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America. His first chapters detail the research into Puritan sexuality (and, following logically, homosexuality), which I found pretty surprising, though I hadn't really looked into the subject that much. He cites Nathaniel Hawthorne as creating or at least spreading the image of the dry, strict, hardhearted Puritan.

From page 77:
"Ministers encouraged their flock to feel Christ's love as a romantic, voluptuous experience. 'Here he comes,' rhapsodized [Samuel] Willard, 'to give us the caresses of his love, and lay us in his bosom and embraces. And now, oh my soul! Hast thou ever experienced the love of a savior?' The redeemed would 'ly in Christ's bosom, and be ravished with his dearest love, and most intimate embraces.'"

Earlier in the chapter he quotes some Edward Taylor.
Page 53:
"In poetry written between the 1680s and 1720s, Taylor envisaged Christ as "a spotless male in prime" and addressed his savior in language of utter infatuation:
Thou art the lovli'st object ever spread
With brightest beauty object ever wore
Of purest flashes of pure white and red
That ever did or could the love allure.
Lord make my love and thee its object meet
And me in folds of such love raptures keep."

Cotton Mather is quoted of the phrase "heavenly ejaculations". Not really scientific, because he also meant "spontaneous prayer", but it did give me a little pause.

It occurred to me that the Ganymede metaphor for souls going up to Christ makes an odd sense in this new light. Also this is a really short version of his stuff, go read the book, there's a lot more where this came from and it looks less sketchy when you don't read it on the internet.

Oh yeah! Katz! His comment is less funny now that I've gone and looked it up. But it does indicate that the above short statements were pretty well accepted historical fact even in the 1980s. His footnote, from page 43 of Gay/Lesbian Almanac: "My reading of the documents, and my stress of the Puritans' negative valuation of erotic lust (as opposed to child production), contradicts the now generally accepted interpretations of Edmund Morgan, William and Mallerville Haller, and other historians responsible for the revisionist line that the Puritans were not as "Puritanical" as the popular stereotype would have it. The stereotype, I think, is closer to reality than the prevailing revisionism."


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