The Portable Bunyan
A Transnational History of The Pilgrim’s Progress
Isabel Hofmeyr


How does a book become an international bestseller? What happens to it as it is translated into different languages, contexts, and societies? How is it changed by the intellectual environments it encounters? What does the transnational circulation mean for its reception back home? Exploring the international life of a particularly long-lived and widely traveled book, Isabel Hofmeyr follows The Pilgrim's Progress as it circulates through multiple contexts--and into some 200 languages--focusing on Africa, where 80 of the translations occurred.

This feat of literary history is based on intensive research that criss-crossed among London, Georgia, Kingston, Bedford (John Bunyan's hometown), and much of sub-Saharan Africa. Finely written and unusually wide-ranging, it accounts for how The Pilgrim's Progress traveled abroad with the Protestant mission movement, was adapted and reworked by the societies into which it traveled, and, finally, how its circulation throughout the empire affected Bunyan's standing back in England.

The result is a new intellectual approach to Bunyan--one that weaves together British, African, and Caribbean history with literary and translation studies and debates over African Christianity and mission. Even more important, this book is a rare example of a truly worldly study of "world literature"--and of the critical importance of translation, both linguistic and cultural.

First published in 2003.

Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand and the author of "We Spend our Years as a Tale that is Told: Oral Historical Storytelling in a South African Chiefdom."