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Modern English Versions - Pickthank, Hill Lucre, and Diffidence

Students love the way Bunyan's names the characters Christian meets along the way. They like those who encourage, like Help, Good-Will, Watchful, Charity, Prudence, Piety, Interpreter, Evangelist, and Faithful and Hopeful. The discouragers, like Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Lord Hate-Good all also make a clear impression. But some of the names, and this includes place names, are less accessible to a modern readership.


A good test of modernizing instincts is to see what our editions do with these three names:

Pickthank, an accusing witness against Faithful at his trial in Vanity; Hill Lucre, where Demas has his silver mine; and Diffidence, Giant Despair's wife in Doubting Castle.


First, Pickthank: the name means someone who is ingratiating, seeks favor from superiors, someone who sucks up. Roger Pooley's note in the Penguin edition reads: 'A telltale; literally, one who curries favour (picks a thank).' (2008, p. 326, n. 70). So, in theory, the name in its context might help, but it's still an awkward name to make sense of.


EPBooks and Frayer-Griggs keep Pickthank. Edmonson has 'Pickthank, also called Talebearer'; Ford also uses 'Talebearer.' She shows her hand in this modernization, by putting alongside the text block on the page her own marginal annotation: 'Talebearer was originally called Pickthank, an obsolete word meaning an officious fellow who does something he shouldn't for the sake of gaining favor.' Vermilye changes Pickthank's name, but the tweaks it in his text so that it chops and changes between either Flatterer or Flattery (which has the effect of supporting a return of the same character later in the story, which is certainly not what Bunyan saw in introducing this Flatterer character later - to whom we'll come in another comparison.


Hill Lucre is also now named in an obscure fashion. While some may have heard the phrase, 'filthy lucre,' it would not be expected in an ordinary vocabulary (It occurs in the King James New Testament in 1 Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11; and 1 Peter 5:2. - The OED has it coined by Tyndale in 1526 for Titus 1.11.)


Again, EPBooks and Frayer Griggs keep the name without modernization. Edmonson calls the hill 'Money-profits.' (Tony Jones, who supplies the notes alongside Edmonsons's text, seems to do so on the basis of what Bunyan originally wrote and not what Edmonson modernized here, so he explains the name Lucre that didn't actually appear in the text! - 'means money or profits.'). Ford doesn't modernize here and keeps Lucre. Vermilye keeps the name but with an explanation, 'at the far side of the plain was a hill called Lucre, also called Greedy Profit.'


So far, we've had an obsolete name that the majority felt a need to modernize. In the second instance, we have a word seldom used, but still in currency (poor pun intended), so that it is kept by the majority. Now we turn to another name which may seem to be one most clearly still in contemporary usage.


Diffidence is still used today. The problem is that what we mean by diffidence today is hard to square with the aggressive violence of Despair's scheming wife! And that's because the word has changed its meaning. Now we mean by diffidence a reticence born out of shyness or lack of self-confidence. This is not what the word most commonly meant in the seventeenth century. Then it meant, aptly for the mistress of Doubting Castle, distrust or mistrust, or doubt. And she certainly doesn't trust those locked up little pilgrims as far as she hopes her husband will throw them!


So is this then modernized to help today's readers? Not, again, in EPBooks, or in Frayer-Griggs. And neither in Vermilye. But Edmonson does change her name to Distrust. And so does Ford. In this instance the change not only gives meaning where some would have been lost on the reader, but it also corrects at false impression of understanding due to meaning change.


Next post in this series will stick around Doubting Castle to examine some detail around the key that gets Christian and Faithful out.



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