A NEW WORLD: An Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec by Arthur Quinn

A NEW WORLD: An Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec

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A curious and ambitious book that sets out to map the beginnings of colonial America, from the founding of Virginia, Quebec, and Massachusetts to the Anglo-French war of the mid-17th century. Quinn (Rhetoric/Univ. of California, Berkeley) tries to do this by utilizing the rhetorical conventions of each era and culture being described, the whole based on a kind of Virgilian master plan that would have this historical ""epic"" echo The Aeneid. The problem is that this approach conflates fine, straightforward storytelling with passages of overblown pseudo-epic ""poetry."" Does Virgil really provide us with the metaphysical key to unlocking America's ""mythic, wilderness time""? No: The rhetoric of one literary form has simply been stitched onto the fabric of another. In any event, the ""voices"" of the different chapters aren't very distinct; a few quaint stylistic decorations do not amount to telling each story ""according to the literary conventions of the day."" The point is, Quinn doesn't actually need Virgil or epic poetry. He is doing something different -- Romantic history -- and doing it quite well, at times brilliantly. His portrait of Frontenac, Louis XIV's governor of New France, is delicious, as are his accounts of Stuyvesant's New Amsterdam and its downfall, the ferocious Indian wars of the 1650s, the Jesuit saga, and the confrontation between megalomaniacal Sir William Berkeley and iconoclastic Nathaniel Bacon in infant Virginia. With all its faults, full-blooded rhetoric pouring from the text as it thunders along makes this a wonderful relief from the usual dryness of contemporary historians.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
Page count: 600pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber