# Saturday, April 18, 2020

SotWeedFactorEbenezer Cooke was an 17th-18th century English poet, who traveled briefly to Maryland as a young man; then returned later in life to take possession of his inherited estates in the British colony. In 1708, Cooke published "The Sot-Weed Factor, or A Voyage to Maryland, A Satyr" - a poem based on his travels.

All the above is true.
 
In 1960, John Barth published The Sot-Weed Factor - a novel of Ebenezer Cooke's life. Almost all of this book originated in the imagination of Mr. Barth.

The "Eben" Cooke of Barth's novel is forced to leave England in the 17th century when he falls in love with a prostitute and is confronted by her pimp for non-payment. He sails for Maryland to take over a family estate there. Upon arrival, Governor Charles Calvert appoints him Poet Laureate of Maryland.

During the years after his exodus from England, a comedy of errors causes him to lose his estate, his family, his friends, and the woman he loves. At the beginning of the novel, Cooke is arrogant and cowardly, but those are not the faults that cause his misfortunes. Often, others take advantage of him because of his naivety.  By the end of this bildungsroman, Cooke's numerous misadventures have transformed him into a mature and honorable man.

The story itself is written to sound like a 17th century novel. The author frequently employs words like forsooth, anon, and suchwise to transport the reader to colonial times. It is farcical and satirical and funny and sad. It is a complicated plot, but so many of the seemingly extraneous stories introduced early return to prove relevant to Cooke's life.

The events of the story consist of a string of coincidences so unlikely that they border on the absurd. Many characters are not who they seem - particularly Eben's tutor Henry Burlingame, who crosses paths with Eben multiple times wearing a different disguise almost every time. Cooke is captured by pirates and by Native Americans during his quests to regain his estate and to find his lost love. While pursuing his quests, Eben is determined to maintain his virginity, despite numerous temptations. But this is not only the story of Ebenezer's quest. It is also Burlingame's quest for his identity and the Native Americans' quest for vengeance on the invading Europeans and the New World's quest for an identity.

Unlike some long, complicated novels I've read recently, I had no trouble keeping track of all the characters in this story.

The Sot-Weed Factor is an enjoyable story for anyone who craves an adventure.

Saturday, April 18, 2020 9:30:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)