Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New England

*New England. Northeastern region of the United States whose first English settlers built on Protestant Puritanism. A product of two worlds, Puritanism famished in the Old World and flourished in New England. Oliver Alden, Santayana’s protagonist in this novel, like Santayana himself, is torn between two societies—America, “the greatest of opportunities” and “the worst of influences,” and Europe, which is “always dying gently, cheerfully.” It is the contrast of productive diligence and delightful decadence. The soul of the author, like that of his lead character, remains divided between two worlds.


*Boston. Capital of Massachusetts and largest city in New England. Boston has been called the “Athens of America”; however, Santayana’s Boston in this novel is more like Sparta—a “dark and constricted place.” The Aldens’ home, located near the State House in Boston, is “forlorn” and “uninhabitable,” more a “pretense” than a residence. Proper folk, like the Aldens, frequent King’s Chapel, where they learn “morality mingled with reason.” As old-line Blue Book Anglo-Saxon, the Aldens avoid the immigrant Irish and Italians, who are “romanizing” their Puritan “Eden.”

Santayana’s Boston, like that of the Aldens, is “out of step” with the rest of America. The “puritanism” of the Aldens is at odds with the “idealism” of the new century, and their “pessimism” conflicts with the “optimism” of the Progressive Era. Their obsession with the “ancient” contrasts with the compulsion for the “recent” in a New America, with a “New Freedom,” “a new woman,” and “a New Idea.” Their noblesse oblige democracy clashes with the egalitarianism of...

(The entire section is 733 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Kirby-Smith, H. T. A Philosophical Novelist: George Santayana and “The Last Puritan.” Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997. Especially useful for assessing the influence on Santayana of Baruch Spinoza, a thinker who, along with Walter Pater, Plato, and Arthur Schopenhauer, was important in Santayana’s philosophy.

Lachs, John. George Santayana. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Does not treat The Last Puritan but does provide a useful framework for interpreting Santayana’s life and philosophical works. Helpful chronology and bibliography.

Levinson, Henry Samuel. Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. Discusses philosophical issues at the core of The Last Puritan. Sees the novel as an exploration of the failure of romantic, Emersonian philosophy to teach action as the basis for enlightenment.

McCormick, John. George Santayana: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Detailed, readable biography surveying the author’s life and writings. Contains several sections and many useful references to The Last Puritan, especially pages 323-339.

Price, Kenneth M., and Robert C. Leitz III, eds. Critical Essays on George Santayana. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992. Includes several essays devoted specifically to The Last Puritan.

Santayana, George. Persons and Places. 3 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944-1953. A colorful and philosophical interpretation of the author’s life and the aesthetic significance he discovered in living. Since The Last Puritan is semiautobiographical and these memoirs are semiliterary, they complement each other nicely.

Singer, Irving. George Santayana, Literary Philosopher. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. Emphasizes Santayana’s grace in combining literature and philosophy. Excellent chapter on The Last Puritan.