[Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sat Sep 5 14:46:47 EDT 2009

Pace Stella, I agree with Gardner (and John) that Eve *is* seeking 
trial, and that it is her "sense of injur'd merit" that inspires her 
to do so. I also believe that Milton's purpose in so portraying her is 
to aid his readers in understanding that (1) evil doesn't always 
confront us bearing horns and pitchfork and dressed in scarlet; (2) it 
seeks us out often enough, without our actively searching for it; and 
(3) like Redcrosse and the Knight of Temperance, we must learn to 
respect it to overcome it, and know the difference between standing up 
to the foe, once confronted, and going looking for him, spoiling for a 
fight, and hoping to gain glory by subduing him. Eve has been warned 
that the Adversary exists, and that even now, he who dared to 
challenge heaven's king is looking for an opportunity to seduce God's 
human creation. That should be enough--and the response should be to 
steel oneself for the inevitable Armageddon, not to invite the attack 
prematurely. Like too many of her progeny who have survived to say, 
"If only I had known," Eve is exhilirated by the thrill of taking on 
an Adversary whose attributes and might she doesn't know, and has (as 
Marjorie Hope Nicolson suggested so long ago) all of the intrepid 
overconfidence of adolescence: a Redcrosse or a Guyon, she believes 
herself indomitable, and is cock-sure of her ability to prevail. She 
is all of the things a good warrior queen should be except 
circumspect, a Laertes rather than a Fortinbras. She is also very much 
of the species of Gawain--a good girl who tells the Serpent repeatedly 
that God has prohibited what he suggests, and from all appearances 
tries hard to honor God's interdiction. She gives in nonetheless at 
precisely the moment at which the wily adder presses the "button" that 
sent her on her foolhardy quest in the first place--promising equality 
with Adam, even sometime superiority. Is Milton saying that women are 
too weak (and too weak-witted) to be able to stand alone? I don't 
think so: his Dalila is anything but dependent on her man, and so (it 
seems to me) is Eve. The traps into which she leads herself are traps 
of which all humanity is susceptible, and Adam is just as capable of 
self-seduction as Eve is. "Who overcomes by force": perhaps the 
infamous Divorcer is suggesting the same thing that Chaucer did before 
him, about the "wo that is in mariage"? A man may be the leader (in 
the context of seventeenth-century convention) but he is not the 
master--and women need respect and approval as much as men do.

I think it's important too to remember that after the Fall, Eve 
effectively tells Adam, "So if you're the boss, and you're so smart, 
why didn't you just stop me from going??" She recognizes (as well as 
he did before the fact) that "thy stay, not free, absents thee 
more"--that it was up to her to *choose* of her own free will to 
listen to him, just as it is up to both of them to *choose* of their 
collective free will to listen to God, but that she was *free* to do 
as she pleased. Any other scenario would be impossible, in a world not 
made for "forc't hallelujahs." Eve is not Adam's subordinate, to be 
ordered about--she's his equal, to be reasoned with.

Best to all,

Carol Barton 

More information about the Milton-L mailing list