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Keywords

Congregationalism, Calvinism, Unitarianism, John Winthrop, William Bradford, Theology

Disciplines

Literature in English, North America

Document Type

Critical Essay (Open Topic)

Abstract

This article contributes to a small body of criticism concerning Sylvester Judd’s 1845 novel Margaret. Largely described as a “Transcendentalist” novel that critiques the Calvinist theology prevalent in late-eighteenth-early-nineteenth century New England village society, I argue for an interpretation of the novel that is concerned the interaction between Calvinism and the Congregationalist model of social and religious organization over time. Rather than just exposing the negative social ramifications Calvinist doctrines like total depravity can have on New England society, I assert that the novel exposes the limitations in Puritan Congregationalist ideals espoused by early figures such as John Winthrop through the example of Livingston. The new Unitarian-congregationalist model Livingston adopts in discarding Calvinism suggests Judd’s resolute faith in Winthrop’s original Congregationalist mission. Judd does not imagine a radical Utopia, but instead offers a more pragmatic reform that is fundamentally Unitarian in its emphasis on humanity's essential goodness and limitless capacity for moral improvement.

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