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.

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.

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