Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Posts tagged “William Faulkner

Readers’ Theater Explores KJB-Influenced Texts—Out Loud

This Mother’s Day blog entry from Tifton is about reading aloud texts influenced by the King James Bible. Like other Bibles, the King James Bible itself is also often read aloud from the pulpit, something the original translators were well aware of. During the translation of the Bible, each committee or “company” of translators met to read aloud and discuss each passage of the Bible as it came up for translation.

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (1741), Dr. Brian Ray

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741), Dr. Brian Ray

I am often very hard on texts. I will read a book at top speed, following the plot threads like a hound on the hunt, totally ignoring all the little details of setting and character that the author has added to round out the reader’s experience. Audiobooks were a revelation to me—the narrator reads every word and, in listening to the text being read, I experience more of the text than I would have if I had read it myself. It is like being a child again and having your Mom read you a story—and my Mom was a very good reader.

Last Sunday, May 5, at the Tifton Museum of Arts and Heritage, an appreciative audience got a real treat. Four people with extensive acting and speaking experience read excerpts from texts directly influenced by the King James Bible. It was like Mom, but even better. (Sorry, Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!)

Among the things that made this performance so memorable were the acoustics in this amazing building. For many years it was a church, and sound echoes and booms in the space. So, hearing Dr. Brian Ray preach Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” here, in a huge bass voice, was enough to make us all consider the state of our souls.

"For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry," Sandra Giles

“For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry,” Sandra Giles

Making a direct contrast to Reverend Edwards, Dr. Sandra Giles read with humor and brightness from Christopher Smart’s “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry,” an excerpt from the much longer work Jubilate Agno. Smart contends that “For he (Jeoffry) is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him” and that “English cats are the best in Europe.”

Moby-Dick, Peter Pinnow

Moby-Dick, Peter Pinnow

Peter Pinnow read, from Moby-Dick, the chapter in which Captain Ahab reconsiders his resolve to hunt and kill the white whale. His reading allowed the audience inside Ahab’s agonized internal battle and his longing for peace and a comfortable life on shore.

The last excerpt was from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Dr. Erin Campbell put on the perfect holier-than-thou Southern accent to give the character the voice she so richly deserved.

As I Lay Dying, Erin Campbell

As I Lay Dying, Erin Campbell

The audience was well entertained and informed. Many, many thanks to all four of these very talented people for sharing their gifts with us.

Vickie Horst is the Manager of Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia.

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For more information on the literary influence of the King James Bible, you may wish to consult the interactive Literary Influences timeline on our Manifold Greatness website or watch our short Literary Influences video on YouTube.

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Readers’ Theater reading list:

  • Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (sermon, 1741)
  • William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (novel, 1930)
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale (novel, 1831)
  • Christopher Smart, “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry,” Jubilate Agno (poem, composed 1758–63).

Living in the Belt with the Good Book

“Most people are bothered by these passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” –Mark Twain.

The poet Andrew Hudgins has identified the King James Bible as the most important work in Southern literature, and the crowd that gathered at William Carey University for the panel discussion, “Living in the Belt with the Good Book,” would agree.  William Carey faculty members Dr. Tom Richardson, Dr. Lorie Watkins Fulton, and Dr. Allison Chestnut led a wide-ranging discussion of Biblical influences on Southern literature, and in particular, the writings of Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty.

Richardson, chair of the Department of Language and Literature at William Carey, opened the discussion with reflections on Twain’s complicated, irreverent, and iconoclastic views on the Bible and religion. “It is full of interest.  It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”—Twain’s Letters from the Earth, published posthumously in 1962.

Fulton, author of William Faulkner, Gavin Stevens, and the Cavalier Tradition (Peter Lang, 2011), recounted the story of Faulkner’s grandfather, who demanded that each grandchild recite a verse from the King James Bible each morning before breakfast.  No Bible verse, no breakfast.  Fulton surmised that perhaps this early training directly inspired the many Biblical allusions in Faulkner’s novels.

The influence of parable on the short stories of Eudora Welty was the subject of Chestnut’s presentation.  Chestnut argued that Welty’s stories imitate both the style and structure of Biblical parables.

The “afterlife” of the King James Bible is clearly on display in the works of these great writers that we Southerners claim as our own. A timeline of the King James Bible’s literary influences is viewable on the Manifold Greatness website.

Sherry Laughlin is Director of Libraries at William Carey University.


Manifold Greatness in The Big Easy

Manifold Greatness Panel 1 at NEH booth, ALA-New Orleans

Just before the 4th of July weekend, Panel 1 from the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition made its first venture out of its home base at the Folger, and appeared at the American Library Association’s annual meeting, which took place this year in New Orleans. I was there for committee work, and to see the panel on the road.

With its strong tradition of jazz music and its  southern sensibility, New Orleans struck me as an appropriate place to showcase the King James Bible. Biblical allusion and references run deep in much southern literature, and novelists like Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner have made the city of New Orleans come alive for readers. But it was the music emanating from open doors down in the French Quarter and the unrelenting flow of the Mississippi that made the real connection for me. If you’ve heard any of the spirituals popularized by African American singing groups like the Fisk Jubilee Singers or the Selah Jubilee Singers (think of the song “Go Down, Moses”), you’ve heard the influence of the King James Bible’s language in America. While it’s a bit too simplistic to say that traditional spirituals, church music, the beat of drums, and the influence of European horns converged and gave birth to jazz, jazz did arise from pieces of those traditions, and some will tell you that New Orleans was its birthplace. Whether that claim can be validated or not, New Orleans certainly has carried on the jazz tradition in a way most American cities have not.

Canal Street, New Orleans

As I stepped around discarded crawfish on the Riverwalk and heard that music coming up from the French Quarter behind me, I thought this was surely an appropriate place for a piece of Manifold Greatness to appear.

Thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for showcasing our panel at their booth. The full traveling panel tour gets underway in early October, 2011.  Stay tuned for details on when and where you can see the show out there on the road!

Caryn Lazzuri is exhibitions manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


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