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Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century

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Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Review:

"The Renaissance was an age of 'reform' of society and 'refashioning' of individuals. Both themes come together in Underdown's discussion of the town of Dorchester in the aftermath of a disastrous fire in 1613. In reconstructing the town, local Puritans strived to create a 'godly New Jerusalem' based on religious commitment rather than on a tolerant Elizabethan oligarchy in which status depended on rank and privilege. Reorganization of the church and local government eventually collapsed under the weight of a restored monarchy and local resistance to change. But through his investigation of a half-century of attempted reform, Underdown is able to bring to life the people who inhabited the town which Thomas Hardy was to make famous in The Mayor of Casterbridge." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)

Synopsis:

The town is Dorchester in Dorset; the time the beginning of the seventeenth century. Two hundred years before Hardy disguised it as Casterbridge, Dorchester was a typical English country town, of middling size and unremarkable achievements. But on 6 August 1613 much of it was destroyed in a great conflagration, which its inhabitants regarded as a 'fire from heaven', and which was the catalyst for the events described in this book. Over the next twenty years, a time of increasing political and religious turmoil all over Europe, Dorchester became the most religiously radical town in the kingdom, deeply involved, emotionally, with the fortunes of the Protestants in the Thirty Years War, and horrified by the Stuart flirtation with Spain. It was, after all, barely a generation since the defeat of the Great Armada. David Underdown traces the way in which the tolerant, paternalist Elizabethan town oligarchy was quickly replaced by a group of men who had a vision of a godly community in which power was to be exercised according to religious commitment rather than wealth or rank. They succeeded, briefly, in making Dorchester a place that could boast systems of education and of assisting the sick and needy nearly three hundred years in advance of their time. The town achieved the highest rate of charitable giving in the country. It had ties of blood as well as faith with many of those who sailed to establish similarly godly communities in New England. But the author's gaze is never focused narrowly on the local: he skillfully sets the story of Dorchester in the context both of national events and of what was going on overseas. This parallel vision of the crisis that led to the English Civil Warand of the incidence of the war itself opens fresh perspectives. The book's most remarkable achievement, however, is the re-creation, with an intimacy unique for an English community so distant from our own, of the lives of those who do not usually make it into the history books: Matthew Chubb, the hub of the old order, and his friend Roger Pouncey, 'godfather to the unruly and unregenerate of the town', on the one hand, the great pastor John White and the diarist William Whiteway on the other. They stride, fully rounded characters, from one end of the book to the other. Even further down the social scale we glimpse the daily lives of the ordinary men and women of the town drinking and swearing, fornicating and repenting, triumphing over their neighbors or languishing in prison, striving to live up to the new ideals of their community or rejecting them with bitter anger and mocking laughter. Above all, in its subtle exploration of human motives and aspirations, it shows again and again how nothing in history is simple, nothing is black and white. And it shows us, by the brilliant detail of its reconstruction, how much of the past we can recover when in the hands of a master historian.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780300059908
Author:
Underdown, David
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Subject:
Great britain
Subject:
City and town life
Subject:
History
Subject:
Stuarts, 1603-1714
Subject:
Europe - Great Britain - General
Subject:
City and town life -- England.
Subject:
Dorchester (Dorset, England) History.
Subject:
World History-England General
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
19940431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 0.7 lb

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Europe » Great Britain » General History
History and Social Science » Europe » Western Europe » General
History and Social Science » World History » England » General

Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$40.95 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Yale University Press - English 9780300059908 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The town is Dorchester in Dorset; the time the beginning of the seventeenth century. Two hundred years before Hardy disguised it as Casterbridge, Dorchester was a typical English country town, of middling size and unremarkable achievements. But on 6 August 1613 much of it was destroyed in a great conflagration, which its inhabitants regarded as a 'fire from heaven', and which was the catalyst for the events described in this book. Over the next twenty years, a time of increasing political and religious turmoil all over Europe, Dorchester became the most religiously radical town in the kingdom, deeply involved, emotionally, with the fortunes of the Protestants in the Thirty Years War, and horrified by the Stuart flirtation with Spain. It was, after all, barely a generation since the defeat of the Great Armada. David Underdown traces the way in which the tolerant, paternalist Elizabethan town oligarchy was quickly replaced by a group of men who had a vision of a godly community in which power was to be exercised according to religious commitment rather than wealth or rank. They succeeded, briefly, in making Dorchester a place that could boast systems of education and of assisting the sick and needy nearly three hundred years in advance of their time. The town achieved the highest rate of charitable giving in the country. It had ties of blood as well as faith with many of those who sailed to establish similarly godly communities in New England. But the author's gaze is never focused narrowly on the local: he skillfully sets the story of Dorchester in the context both of national events and of what was going on overseas. This parallel vision of the crisis that led to the English Civil Warand of the incidence of the war itself opens fresh perspectives. The book's most remarkable achievement, however, is the re-creation, with an intimacy unique for an English community so distant from our own, of the lives of those who do not usually make it into the history books: Matthew Chubb, the hub of the old order, and his friend Roger Pouncey, 'godfather to the unruly and unregenerate of the town', on the one hand, the great pastor John White and the diarist William Whiteway on the other. They stride, fully rounded characters, from one end of the book to the other. Even further down the social scale we glimpse the daily lives of the ordinary men and women of the town drinking and swearing, fornicating and repenting, triumphing over their neighbors or languishing in prison, striving to live up to the new ideals of their community or rejecting them with bitter anger and mocking laughter. Above all, in its subtle exploration of human motives and aspirations, it shows again and again how nothing in history is simple, nothing is black and white. And it shows us, by the brilliant detail of its reconstruction, how much of the past we can recover when in the hands of a master historian.
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