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

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Mon Sep 7 12:08:04 EDT 2009

A couple of things in response to Jim's questions and comments:

1)  I don't see why a willingness or a zealous desire to be tested has to be sinful.  She's not seeking the object of the temptation--she's not interested in hanging around the fruit and sniffing it, for example, to see if it will make her want to bite.  She's willing to expose herself alone to the possibility that Satan will try her.  This is because the desire to work alone is good and because there is no way in the terms of the poem that trial can be either bad or avoided.

2)  I think that you're right that the passages you quote do not clearly indicate that at the end she's going because she is actively seeking her trial.  But in the course of the dialogue she gives more than one reason for why she wants to go, why it's good to do so and to want to do so.  The reasons she gives in response to Adam at the very end are not her best reasons in terms of the poem's larger discourse about trial (her reasoning is not "perfect" or entirely consistent; it's maturing, not matured).  The first part of the speech that ends with her ideas about "exterior help" articulate some important things about the positive value of trial.  It is this argument and the one about "help," things that I suggested earlier she has been hurt into figuring out, that win her Adam's permission by trumping his objections, none of which can bind because they make less sense or only temporary sense.  It's for this reason that I'm not so ready to dismiss the idea that they continue to have a positive, motivating force for her as she takes her leave.

I think all of that was a trail in itself.  She didn't expect Adam to respond the way he did, and she had to deal with it, drawing on what she'd come to understand from Adam, Raphael, and her own experiences so far about the nature of the edenic situation.  I think she passes this one.  That she fails the next one is not an indication she got something wrong earlier, only that in the face of Satan's deception she gets something drastically wrong later.  It would have been good for her at that later point to have remembered some of Adam's advice, especially the stuff about the "fair appearing good."  Also, no doubt the scene would have gone differently had she gone and gotten Adam to come talk with the serpent with her (remembering the business about minding).  Still, how do we know it would have ended happily, even then?  Adam's reason is hardly perfect yet either (he certainly fails later to reason through his own moment of trial).  And as I said a few days ago, what about the next time?



Louis Schwartz

Associate Professor of English

University of Richmond

Richmond, VA  23173

(804) 289-8315

lschwart at richmond.edu

-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira
Sent: Sunday, September 06, 2009 11:41 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

Louis -- once you've identified the object of Eve's seeking as

"temptation," which can only be to something wrong or immoral, haven't

you already stacked the deck as to motive?  To fail at a trial is not

necessarily to sin, but to demonstrate weakness.  To fail in resisting

temptation is always to sin.  I'm going to very briefly argue below

that temptation and trial are equivalent in the text of PL, that Eve

did not seek temptation, but that her willingness to be left alone

proceeded from other motives / reasons.

Ultimately, Eve's desire to be left alone is an expression of her

faith in God, not her faith in herself:

And what is Faith, Love, Vertue unassaid [9:335 ]

Alone, without exterior help sustaind?

Let us not then suspect our happie State

Left so imperfet by the Maker wise,

As not secure to single or combin'd.

Fraile is our happiness, if this be so, [ 340 ]

And Eden were no Eden thus expos'd.

Or, rather, her faith in herself is an expression of and follows from

her faith in God.  And note that both Adam and Eve have to validate

the perfection of God's creation to validate the perfection of God:

To whom thus Adam fervently repli'd.

O Woman, best are all things as the will

Of God ordain'd them, his creating hand

Nothing imperfet or deficient left [ 345 ]

As a result, a fall can only proceed from deception, not from a

misdirection of the will or improper desire:

Least by some faire appeering good surpris'd

She dictate false, and misinforme the Will [ 355 ]

And, of course, the text itself equates temptation with trial:

Seek not temptation then, which to avoide

Were better, and most likelie if from mee [ 365 ]

Thou sever not: Trial will come unsought.

But perhaps temptation is a species of trial rather than equivalent to it.

Ultimately, we see in the passage below that Eve leaves Adam because

she believes:

1. That because they are expecting to be tempted at any time, the

temptation won't come -- she expects it to come when they are not

expecting it.  I am taking the words "when least sought" here to mean

"when least expected and least prepared," which I think is justified

by the context of her conversation with Adam.

2. That Satan will tempt Adam before he tempts Eve, because he is

proud and she is the weaker partner -- it would be a more humiliating

failure to fail to tempt Eve.

With thy permission then, and thus forewarnd

Chiefly by what thy own last reasoning words

Touchd onely, that our trial, when least sought, [ 380 ]

May finde us both perhaps farr less prepar'd,

The willinger I goe, nor much expect

A Foe so proud will first the weaker seek,

So bent, the more shall shame him his repulse.

So Eve is willing to be left alone because she trusts her Creator, is

not expecting to be tempted when she is ready for it, and because she

believes Satan is too proud to tempt her first.

Jim R

On Sun, Sep 6, 2009 at 10:51 PM, Schwartz, Louis<lschwart at richmond.edu> wrote:

> I think that Harold may be conflating two different arguments here.  One concerns whether or not Eve can be said to be "seeking" temptation or trial at the end of the dialogue with Adam.  The other concerns what it means if she can be said to have that motive.  I say this because I believe that it is possible to accept the first without jumping to the conclusion (as Bell did in the essay Caroll Cox has recently mentioned) that this motive is "fallen."  The presence of such a motive--or at least a version of it--need not be, in other words, a violation of the poem's theological logic (its presentation of the free will defense).


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