[Milton-L] Is Eve seeking temptation?

Campbell, W. Gardner Gardner_Campbell at baylor.edu
Sat Sep 5 16:39:46 EDT 2009

Actually, I'd say that my view is not too far from the in-between that John articulates, with these provisions (stated here not as rebuttals but as clarifications of my position):

1. I think Eve raised the idea of working separately for many reasons, including reasons having to do with her own complicated maturing. One of those reasons has to do with a struggle between agency and autonomy (to leave "alterity" alone for a moment and find some other "a" words) that everyone in the poem faces (maybe including God, hard to say) and that in this instance certainly includes her sufficiency to stand. That struggle is particularly acute for Eve because she is derived materially from Adam, but of course questions of material derivation drive most of the struggles in the poem. Hers is an acute instance, in this instance, of a general struggle. Of course agency vs. autonomy has its own subsequent drama in every struggle between believer and church, church and government, etc. etc. But I wander.

2. I don't think Eve raises the idea of separating because she is malignantly manipulative and acting out an inherent fallenness or in any way demonstrating the end point of a trajectory of inadequacy she's been following since her dream.  If that were the long and short of it, we'd have to read Adam's spirited colloquy with God in Book 8 very differently than we typically do (i.e., that Adam meets not only with God's permission but God's approval by so arguing).

3. "Efficient work" is an amazingly [sic] difficult concept in the poem, given the inherent qualities of a Garden whose enormous bliss mocks the gardener's scant manuring. I won't say Eve's idea is specious or a stalking-horse, but in my view Adam rightly suspects that the idea of "efficient work" is not a ruse for malign ambitions but a starting point for a very complex exchange involving ideas and questions of comparative judgment, comparative authority, etc. Could there be a higher-stakes test than such a moment in a couple's life? And they continue to hold hands through it, and in fact work through it with breathtaking complexity that nevertheless reaffirms their love most directly. Speaking only for myself, I hold my breath through the entire passage, every time I read it. Well, metaphorically anyway. But I really am almost beside myself sometimes with how interesting this passage is. Poetically interesting, with generative symbols from which issue both law and love, authority and self-sacrifice, and a measured, abundant tenderness that does bring tears to my eyes in ways I can't quite articulate.

4. Making the inner mind into outer converse and finding one's way thereby into the other's heart--when I think of it, I think that the modernist rejection of Milton (in one instance) as someone who "never lived or knew men or women" is a lamentable example of modernism's peculiar blindnesses. Of course there are things the modernists could see in compensation....

Marmoreally yours with too much conceiving,
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of John Leonard [jleonard at uwo.ca]
Sent: Saturday, September 05, 2009 1:16 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] Is Eve seeking temptation?

Stella says that "Eve is not seeking trial," to which Gardner replies "I
think she is."  When two very fine Miltonists disagree on a question as
fundamental as this, we can sure something interesting is happening in the
text.  My own view is halfway between Stella and Gardner.  I do not think
that Eve is initially seeking temptation when she proposes to work
separately.  She just wants to get the work done more efficicently.  Satan
is not even on her mind in her first speech (9.205-225).  But when Adam
suggests that she might be wiser to stay by his side. . . . THAT is the
turning point.  Eve is hurt:

But that thou shouldst my firmness therefore doubt
To God or thee, because we have a foe
May tempt it, I expected not to hear. (9.279-81)

>From this moment on Eve is seeking temptation.  But she wasn't before.


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