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William Langland, early American literature


Geoffrey Chaucer’s position as “father of English literature” has been steadily challenged in recent years. This paper both proposes and interrogates the other fourteenth-century English poet William Langland’s possible claims as the origin for the Puritan tradition of New England and, hence, the later traditions of American literatures—in the plural. We know that the first copy of his satirical, theological dream-vision Piers Plowman arrived in New England in 1630 with the father of Anne Bradstreet, and as a result any patriarchal genealogy is already problematic because the first author in the American family-tree was a woman. Rather than the linearity of the English tradition, America offers a sprawling mosaic of minority writings marked by spiritual restlessness, calls for social reform, and the urgent need for self-definition, all already established in the English Puritan Piers tradition. The discussion ends with Florence Converse’s largely (and aptly) forgotten novel Long Will (1908) that sought to retrieve the lost life-story of the author of Piers Plowman.