[Milton-L] just struggling

Hugh Wilson hwilson at together.net
Mon Feb 7 22:17:59 EST 2005

Although I am tempted to be sarcastic, sarcasm
makes people too angry for serious discussion.

Accordingly, I have tried to keep in mind R.H.
Tawney's observation that "an erring colleague
is not an Amalekite to be smitten hip and thigh."

I admit that I have a problem with implied
relativism that in the invocation of "presentism,"
but I am open to the clarification.  (As for Milton
running for office, I didn't know that dead men could
run for public office until a dead man beat Ashcroft,
but I think my colleague might agree that many of
the dead would be better than the sorry lot in
office now.)

Anyway, I fail to see how the description of
Eve's response to her creation proves that Eve
is "weaker" than Adam or uniquely liable to
Freudian--or Ovidian--narcissism, or that Adam
is any less "narcissistic" than Eve. Milton amply
dramatizes Adam's cupiditas, his blind self-
centered selfishness in Book 10.

The cryptic reference to Eve's hyperbolic
eulogy of Adam in Book 4:440-91 does not
resolve the issue under discussion.  Eve is
deeply in love, she adores and adulates Adam,
but the judgment of a lover is often unreliable.
In her infatuation, Eve thinks that Adam is
wiser and more reliable than he really is.

I also assume that my colleague also refers to
the famous passage  in Book 4:285-357 where
the envious fiend "Saw undelighted all delight. . . .
/ Two of far nobler shape. . ."  This passage
includes the infamous line, "He for God only,
she for God in him" (299).

This long embedded section, with its double
negatives and involuted, serpentine syntax, has
been hotly debated on the Milton list, and on this
issue I stand with those who think this passage
expresses Satan's disgruntled, envious, perverted
attitude toward the relationship between men and
women, not own Milton's attitude.  At his worst,
I find it highly improbable that Milton thought that
men should exercise "absolute rule" over anyone,
whether male or female--(my emphasis)--that's
Satan's mind-set.  The passage in question
can be read as indirect discourse, thoughts
passing through the distorted consciousness
of Satan.

Milton had expressed an indefensible attitude
about the allegedly secondary status of women
in Tetrachordon, but Paradise Lost wasn't
completed until roughly twenty years later.

Contrary to the hierarchical theory mentioned
in Tetrachordon, in Book IV, even Satan recog-
nizes that "in their looks divine /  The image of
their glorious Maker shone."  (My italics.)  Both
Adam and Eve bear the divine image.  Eve is
not the corrupted image of an image; even if we
were to credit the secondary creation story of
Adam's rib as a literal truth rather than an
etiological fable, sometimes "coming second"
means being improved or better, the way a
second draft can improve upon a first.  Priority
or seniority is no guarantee of any superiority:
David surpassed all of his more highly regarded
older brothers.

By the mid 1660's, Milton had had more
life experience than in 1645, and his depiction
of the sensitivity, intelligence and discretion
of Eve suggests that he had come to respect
(and sympathize with) women far more than
many of his male contemporaries--John Dryden,
for instance.  In my view, Milton portrayed Eve
as, on balance, more admirable than Adam.

Finally, I apologize for any mis-impression
that might lead anyone to believe that racism
and sexism--in their garden varieties or in their
most exotic and toxic forms--aren't consequential
and baleful.  Racism and sexism are all too
common, but some forms are more malignant,
more self-conscious, more malicious than others.
(I learn of sexism by inference, through history
and through the experience of the women I know;
I know of the other "ism" by various means.)

Rather than trying to trivialize either racist or
sexist attitudes, I meant the opposite.  I meant
to imply that they are as common as dandelions
or crab-grass, albeit far more harmful.  In fact, the
"garden varieties' of unconscious racism and reflex
sexism may have far more consistently pernicious
effects than the less commonplace, more acute

By the end of his life, Milton's attitude toward
women seems to have changed and matured.
In a world as racist and sexist as our own,
I suspect one can never be entirely sure than
one doesn't harbor unconscious racist or sexist
prejudices, but, as best I can tell, Milton was never
"misogynist" in the literal, etymological meaning
of the word. In his case, that epithet, like "male
supremacist," is unfair, and I am afraid it might
discourages new readers from approaching
his work with an open mind and heart.

La lutta continua,

Hugh Wilson
hwilson at together.net
(518) 562-8027

P.S.  Professor Walker was too modest to
mention her book on Milton and the Idea of
Woman (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1988) before she went off to Starbucks, so I will.

(I'm looking for enlightenment, not a fight.)

Her book contains the following: The idea of Milton
and the idea of woman / Julia M. Walker -- How free
are Milton's women? / Susanne Woods -- "Myself/before
me": gender and prohibition in Milton;s Italian sonnets /
Lynn E. Enterline -- A mask presented a Ludlow castle:
the armor of logos / Kathleen Wall -- Justice for Margery
Evans: a "local" reading of Comus / Leah S. Marcus --
Courting Urania: the narrator of paradise lost invokes
his muse / Noam Flinker -- Eve and the arts of Eden /
Diane McColley -- In white ink: Paradise lost and Milton's
ideas of women / Richard Corum -- Servile/sterile/style:
Milton and the question of woman / Marshall Grossman --
Milton's portrait of Mary as a bearer of the word / Dayton
Haskin -- "Incident to all our sex": the tragedy of Dalila /
John C. Ulreich, Jr. -- Intestine thorn: Samson's struggle
with the woman within / Jackie DiSalvo -- Female autonomy
in Milton's sexual poetics / Janet E. Halley.

Walker's anthology contributes to the discussion of
Milton's attitudes toward women along with Edward
Phillips, John Aubrey, Anne Manning, David Masson,
Diane McColley, Barbara Lewalski, Mary Nyquist,
Susan Gilbert, Sandra Gubar, John Ulreich, Derek
Wood, Joan Bennet, John Shawcross, Joseph
Wittreich, and unnumbered others.

Patricia Parker's essay, "Coming Second: Woman's
Place," does not appear to be catalogued in MLA
Bibliography online.  After rummaging around I
find the article Professor Walker mentions is in
Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property
(London[?]: Methuen, 1987).

MLA Bibliography is screwy, sometimes you
have to know an author's middle initial to find
their work.  (See Julia M. Walker.)  Other times,
the obscure middle initial is omitted.  (See
Patricia [A.] Parker.)

My library does not have Parker's book, and I have
not read it.  An on-line search shows that Judith
Scherer Herz gave the book a largely sympathetic
review in UTQ 59:1 (Fall 1989):  ___ -- ___.

At 05:58 PM 2/5/2005, you wrote:

>"Undoubtedly neither God nor Satan are nearly as misogynist as Paul."
>Oh, yawn.
>I have just joined this list, hoping for something like the level of
>discussion we get on the Spenser list.    Is this exchange typical?
>should I claw back that  space in my IN Box?
>Milton's God, Milton's Satan, Milton's Eve, and Paul -- whoever and how
>many people constitute Paul --  are cultural constructs, no?  (And if your
>blood pressure is rising about Paul, read some more about the Council of
>Nicea.)  You are discussing them as if they were running for office in the
>here and now.
>Whether or not Milton's Eve is intrinsically more frail than Milton's Adam
>is an open question only if you haven't read Book IV.  The lake scene,
>always called the pool scene because we all hear the Ovidian Narcissus
>echo so deafeningly, is about as unambiguous as it gets.
>Eve is weaker.  Does this make Milton a misogynist?  Have we flashed back
>to the 1970s and Gilbert and Gubar?  Or even back to Woolf?  How about
>someone re-reading Patricia Parker's "Coming Second"?
>What Eve becomes (as Milton's character) may be open to debate, but let's
>not start imaging her having coffee at Starbucks -- or working as a
>barista serving Paul his half-caff skinny latte.  But by the same token,
>could someone please explain to me what makes racism or sexism disarming
>if it's found in the (not The) garden?
>One of my friends recently sent me a neologism at which I laughed:
>"presentism."  I laughed because I thought lit people were beyond that
>sort of anachronistic fiddling.  Seems I'm wrong.
>off to Starbucks,
>Julia Walker
>On Saturday, February 5, 2005, at 02:59  PM, Hugh Wilson wrote:
>The issue of whether or not Milton portrays
>Eve as really intrinsically more frail than Adam
>is an open question.  Some scholars, like John
>Ulreich, have credibly argued that Eve is heroic.
>In some significant respects, she seems morally
>superior to Adam.
>When Milton was three, in Salve Deus Rex
>Judaeorum [1611], Emilia Lanier had already
>argued that Adam was more culpable
>for the fall than Eve.
>Hugh Wilson
>hwilson at together.net
>(518) 562-8027
>P.S.  Also, as an aside, insofar as
>"misogyny" means the hate of women,
>Paul isn't "misogynist" at all.  The word
>is devalued by being over-used.  Jason
>in Euripides' Medea is expresses genuine
>misogynist sentiments when he wishes
>that women never existed, and that men
>could produce children some other way.
>Garden variety sexism or unconscious
>prejudice isn't misogyny anymore than
>the garden varieties of unconscious racism
>are tantamount to membership in the
>Aryan Nation.
>Given the questions about Paul's authorship
>of the most controversial epistles, and the
>is debate about what they really meant, it
>seems that we should be more circumspect.
>At 06:35 PM 2/3/2005, you wrote:
>I think to answer your questions you'd have to ask either God or the Devil
>directly.  The best I can do is point to a textual tradition that Milton
>may have been following.  Undoubtedly neither God nor Satan are nearly as
>misogynist as Paul.

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