[Milton-L] just struggling

Derek Wood dwood at stfx.ca
Mon Feb 14 16:35:38 EST 2005

Could I add a postscript to Hugh's note? Forgive me for quoting
something of my own I once published

But it's very relevant to the points Hugh has made although it's about
Dalila not Eve:

            It should by now be clear that Dalila is the more
intelligent partner in this marriage. Even in his most patriarchal,
doctrinally prescriptive moments, Milton had recognised that the man
might not always be the superior marital partner: "particular exceptions
may have place, if she exceed her husband in prudence and dexterity, and
he contentedly yield, for then a superior and more naturall law comes
in, that the wiser should govern the lesse wise, whether male or female"
(CP 2. 589). For political expedience, Samson took a wife. She is quite
open about her own opposed political agenda. They matched minds and he
lost; that is not in doubt. He is not too bright, as Dalila reminds
herself when she curses her own hopefulness, "I was a fool, too rash and
quite mistaken / In what I thought would have succeeded best" (907-08).
He knows it himself: "O impotence of mind, in body strong!" (52), "not
made to rule, / But to subserve where wisdom bears command" (56-57); he
has strength but "wisdom nothing more than mean" (207).Exiled from
Light, Ch. 6.

Derek N.C. Wood,

Senior Research Professor,

St. Francis Xavier University,

Antigonish, Nova Scotia,

Canada, B2G 2W5.

Phone: 902-867-2328.






-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Hugh Wilson
Sent: Monday, February 07, 2005 11:18 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] just struggling


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
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
here and now.

Whether or not Milton's Eve is intrinsically more frail than Milton's
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
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
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
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
misogynist as Paul.


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