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New Puritans

We’re hardly short of names with new on the front. They’re intended to suggest that an old idea has been revitalised, often alas only to the extent of putting new wine in old bottles. In recent decades we’ve had the New Age, the New Romantics, New Men, the New World Order, and the British New Lads and New Labour. And in only one sense is New Puritans a new tag, since there have been new puritans for decades, with or without capitalisation, for example as the name for a sexual backlash to AIDS in the USA in the eighties. But these British New Puritans are newer than any other new puritans. It’s the name for an artistic movement founded by Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thorne, whose founding philosophy appeared in an anthology last autumn, called — with what you may feel is a touch of hubris — All Hail the New Puritans. The rules were made explicit in a ten-point manifesto: writers must be dedicated to narrative, eschew poetic licence, aim at clarity, and have a moral purpose. In other words — or at least the words of Nicholas Blincoe — New Puritan fiction is fiction in “its purest and most immediate form”. The movement has come in for a fair amount of derision; in the nature of artistic movements that suddenly burst on the scene, it’s hard to be sure how long it will survive.

Like the Dogme film-makers, the New Puritans seem to be guided by the idea that because something is simpler in expression it is also purer in content.

Independent on Sunday, Sept. 2000

But instant movements tend to be unreliable, and the New Puritans were accused of being “anti-literary” and opportunistic.

Guardian, May 2000

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 16 Jun 2001