It is widely recognized, though perhaps seldom admitted, especially by school administrators forbidding Bible distribution, that the Bible is a major source of literary allusion. If you don’t know the Bible you can’t have a genuine understanding of Western culture. But what is not widely recognized is the place of the Gideon Bible in American literature. Since the first distribution in 1908, its presence in hostels ranging from Heartbreak Hotel to the Hilton, from the St. Gregory to the Hyatt-Regency, has rendered the Gideon Bible a symbol and perhaps even a stylistic influence in American literature.

“Every hotel room … offers a Bible for the perusal of travel-worn salesmen [and] bickering vacationers” who are thus not “denied the consolation and stimulation of this incredible, most credible book.” So writes novelist John Updike in A Month of Sundays (Knopf, 1975, p. 101). The influence of this “incredible, most credible book” is pervasive, with allusions thereto ranging from such works of pop-culture as the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” to more sophisticated belles-lettres such as Wright Morris’s picture-prose book The Inhabitants. One literary critic even credits the Gideon Bible with forming the “biblical poetic” style of the fiction of Sherwood Anderson, a significant writer of twentieth-century America. “Anderson carried about with him pages torn from the Gideon Bibles that he found in the hotels in which he spent so much of his time both before and after he became a professional writer,” Jarvis A. Thurston has observed in “Anderson and ‘Winesburg’: Mysticism and Craft” (Accent, Spring, 1956).

Anderson, ...

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