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

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Sat Sep 5 21:10:59 EDT 2009

In my opinion, Stella is right about Eve’s initial motive (and I think it also remains her dominant one).  Gardner is also right, however, about the fact that Eve is seeking temptation at the end of the argument, and so is John about the fact that this second motive arises in the course of the argument itself.  I’m not sure that I agree with Carol, however, that these details suggest there’s something wrong with the impulse of seeking.  I think, in fact, that Eve’s remarks about seeking and the impulse itself are evidence of a deeper understanding of paradise and of the purpose of temptation. 

What I find most interesting about John’s observation is that it suggests Eve is actually hurt into this deeper and better understanding, and that’s a strange and interesting thing for Milton to have imagined.  Carol is right that Eve’s merit is injured by the implications of Adam’s initial speech, but this is because his remarks are genuinely insulting.   Eve’s situation is different, in other words, from Satan’s, who should not have been insulted by the begetting of the Son—at least according to my reading of Raphael’s account in Book 5 and Satan’s own in Book 4—and note that this is not the same thing as denying that the language the Father used on that occasion was designed to try Satan.  I think his words were indeed designed to do so.  That was his tree.  Eve only faces a similar moment when she’s at hers, not in the dialogue with Adam.  Adolescent rashness on her part, I think, comes into play only when she “rashly” takes that bite.  

When Adam inadvertently insults her, on the other hand—a result perhaps of his failure to think enough about how she’d take what he decides to say—her temptation is of a different kind.  Failures of that test might have ranged from turning around and walking away after a slap or a very sharp word to just taking it with a bewildered nod and smile (and no word of protest or disagreement).  She does neither of these things.  Instead, she tells her partner exactly what she thinks, and what she says turns out to include some new wisdom of a rather important sort.  It takes Adam a bit of time to refocus, and he finally has a few wise things to add in response, but he knows that he has no comeback to the core insight.  And I think that’s because in the poem’s terms there is no comeback.

That something Adam might say in Eden might hurt, and that such a hurt might lead to a deeper understanding of Eden itself—tree and all—is exactly the sort of dynamism and complexity to which Gardner is calling our attention.  I think it’s a compelling call.


Louis Schwartz
English Department
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu

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