Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Criminal Narratives

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9780945612377: Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Criminal Narratives
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Designed first to terrify readers with examples of divine retribution against lives gone wrong, and later to excite prurient imaginations, criminal narratives comprise a significant but forgotten genre of American literature. The representation of crime and the characterization of criminals in these narratives, according to Williams, offer an accurate index of more widespread social transformations, such as the secularization of society and the growth of capitalism.

Recorded first by Puritan clergy as morality plays, these narratives depict the ritual drama of execution, in which the condemned criminals were given specific roles to fulfill, roles that not only marked the boundaries of acceptable behavior but also made crime understandable. For New Englanders of later generations, however, the scaffold was a stage for a more secular drama, and the popular narratives it produced served a very different purpose. Profit replaced passion as a motive for crime, and condemned criminals were used to demonstrate the pathetic consequences of ungoverned greed.

By collecting and presenting thirty-two examples of crime stories ranging from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, Williams explores the public ritual of capital punishment and the changing aspects of the genre it produced. These tales are as fascinating today as they were two and a half centuries ago, and they offer a glimpse of how popular literature functioned in early American society.

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About the Author:

Daniel E. Williams is a professor of English at the University of Mississippi where he lectures on early American literature. He has written over thirty articles--many of them on the rogue narrative in American literature. Currently, Professor Williams is president of the Society of Eighteenth Century American Studies.

Review:

In Pillars of Salt, Daniel E. Williams provides two-score of the most significant American criminal narratives from the colonial and early national periods, examples of a genre that hitherto has received little attention from literary and cultural historians. Deeply informed by reading in the relevant critical theory and the voluminous secondary literature on early New England, his lengthy introduction offers the most detailed analyses we have of the cultural work of these narratives. All students of early American history and culture, of the history of the book in America, and of the sociology of literature generally should find this collection provocative. (Gura, Philip F.)

It is wonderful to have these in print! These narratives are a superb source for understanding the social history of the colonial period. The author's introduction does an excellent job of placing them in their context. These are the kinds of material that will appeal to scholars and students as well as to the general public. I am delighted. (David Rothman)

Pillars of Salt brings together texts that embody the interplay of high culture and low, order and disorder, the sacred and the secular. In doing so these texts are unusually revealing of the complexities of culture in early America. Daniel Williams' introduction and careful editing add greatly to the value of this collection. (David Hall)

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9780945612315: Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Criminal Narratives

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ISBN 10:  0945612311 ISBN 13:  9780945612315
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1994
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