[Milton-L] just struggling

James Rovira jrovira at drew.edu
Mon Feb 7 23:24:58 EST 2005

I think there is something to be said about the problem of applying 
ethical categories to authors that lived long before us.  I was 
discussing with a fellow teacher my use of Augustine (selections from 
chapter 7 of the Confessions) in a class entitled "Writing About Evil" 
(a themed Freshman Composition class) and the only thing she could say 
in response was, "he was really a misogynist."  It wasn't thoughtful or 
in response to a specific text. It was just thrown out there, as if she 
had nothing else to say about him otherwise.  I tried to explain that 
the passage she probably had in mind was more concerned with 
deromanticizing erotic fantasies in young men than actually attacking 
women (but still, there is that tone...), and that he revered his 
mother, but it didn't matter.  That's all she had to say or was 
interested in saying, or knowing, about Augustine.  

But I think Milton's Eve, as the mother of all the living, really is 
supposed to be a prototypical woman in ways few other fictional 
characters are intended to be, and when Raphael is coming (specifically 
sent to Adam, not Eve, by God), Adam (if I'm reading this right) sends 
Eve off to fetch the vittles, even in a perfect world.    

Haste hither EVE, and worth thy sight behold
Eastward among those Trees, what glorious shape
Comes this way moving; seems another Morn
Ris'n on mid-noon; som great behest from Heav'n
To us perhaps he brings, and will voutsafe
This day to be our Guest. But goe with speed,
And what thy stores contain, bring forth and poure
Abundance, fit to honour and receive
Our Heav'nly stranger; well we may afford
Our givers thir own gifts, and large bestow
 From large bestowd, where Nature multiplies
Her fertil growth, and by disburd'ning grows
More fruitful, which instructs us not to spare.

Would Milton have considered this in any way inappropriate?  Of course 
not, not any more than some modern readers can help the way it comes 
across to them.

The following is an interesting comparison of feminist and 
fundamentalist discourse:


Needs some copy editing but the ideas are pretty interesting.  

Jim Rovira

Hugh Wilson wrote:

> 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

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