Fun facts about John Bunyan’s classic book
1. John Bunyan’s most famous book has a claim to being the first English novel. Others have argued that The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Bunyan’s masterpiece, is less a ‘novel’ and more a religious allegory – which it certainly is. Bunyan the book while imprisoned in Bedford gaol (for preaching without a licence and refusing to attend the Anglican church service).
2. The Pilgrim’s Progress is also one of the bestselling ‘novels’ of all time. Some estimates put it behind only the Bible in the number of copies it has shifted. It remains popular among Puritans (especially in America). And it was more or less an instant hit, reprinted within the first year of its publication with a third edition following the year after.
3. The Pilgrim’s Progress has provided a number of later writers with handy titles for their novels. From William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (named for the place of pleasures in Bunyan’s book) to John Buchan’s Mr Standfast, numerous authors have taken the titles of their works from The Pilgrim’s Progress. The book has also given us the phrase ‘the slough of despond’ (Bunyan himself was prone to bouts of ‘despond’, or depression).
4. Ralph Vaughan Williams turned The Pilgrim’s Progress into an opera. Williams’ opera premiered in 1951 in Covent Garden, though it only ran for a short period. A 1954 revival at Cambridge fared better, however, and it has been revived several times since.
5. A number of the places that appear in Bunyan’s allegory may have been inspired by real places in Bunyan’s home county of Bedfordshire. The Slough of Despond, for instance – which has since become shorthand for a state of depression – may well have been inspired by the large deposits of grey clay in the area, which provided the London Brick company with the clay for the brickworks at nearby Stewartby.
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