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CSL & Blake & me on Reading PL

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  • David Lenander
    Blake only makes his point via the Devil, speaking in _The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_. I think one should be cautious in attributing all statements from
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 23, 2005
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      Blake only makes his point via the Devil, speaking in _The Marriage of
      Heaven and Hell_. I think one should be cautious in attributing all
      statements from Blake's Satan to Blake. Or am I forgetting something in
      Blake's _Milton_? Or somewhere else? Although I once read nearly all of
      Blake in a collected edition, it was more than three decades ago. It's
      such a good point, in some limited ways, that it's no wonder that such
      readers as Percy Shelley, and many subsequent readers, mistake the
      character's voice for Blake's. But, regardless of what Blake or Lewis
      have to say, my own reading of _Paradise Lost_ is that the really
      interesting characters are Eve, Raphael, and Adam. I found the books
      devoted to Satan almost totally unsympathetic, and boring. Rereading
      them, now, I can appreciate them more, but I think CSL's _Preface_ is
      one of the best books on Milton that I've read. Of course I'm also very
      sympathetic to Stanley Fish's _Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise
      Lost_ (despite his subsequent distancing from his early work, if not
      disavowal). And, in fact, CSL and Oscar Wilde are odd precursors of
      Fish's enormously influential critical approach to "reader response"
      theory.

      I think that CSL's _Preface_ was the only secondary reference that my
      best Milton instructor, Prof. Toni McNaron, devoted an entire lecture
      to discussing--and discussing with a lot of agreement, so clearly it's
      not entirely a universal opinion that the evil characters are more
      interesting than the good characters. Of course, Toni's argument was
      that (to reductively paraphrase for purposes with which she might not
      agree): Milton was of the Feminist party without knowing it. So she
      wasn't exactly reclaiming PL for orthodoxy, either. I don't believe
      I've ever read Williams on Milton, which is probably an embarrassing
      admission here, so I don't know even which source John and CSL were
      looking at--though, probably CSL was relying upon personal
      conversations as well. Perhaps John will recommend where exactly we
      should look for Willliams' arguments.

      I would agree with the "truism" in that Satan and his minions are
      probably marginally more interesting than the scenes in heaven between
      God the Father and Messiah. Milton makes up for Messiah in _Paradise
      Regained_, however.


      On Mar 23, 2005, at 10:45 AM, mythsoc@yahoogroups.com wrote:

      > In that sense that Williams and Lewis tried to reclaim Milton for
      > orthodoxy* and to negate the observation, considered a truism since
      > the beginning of the 19th century, that Milton's evil characters are
      > far more interesting (and engaged the reader's interest & sympathies)
      > more than his good characters. Lewis pointed out all sorts of ways in
      > which Milton demeans Satan and all kinds of admirable traits Adam &
      > Eve have, but to no avail -- Blake's point still holds. He also (no
      > doubt as part of his "Mere Xianity" project, which tried to show that
      > all Xians are really Anglicans at heart) attempts to paint one of the
      > leading Puritans of his day as a staunch middle-of-the-road Anglican.
      > I'm neither a Puritan nor an Anglican but a Calvinist, so all I can
      > say is that I found his efforts altogether unconvincing.
      > Which is not to say PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST is not a good book,
      > merely that it takes an extreme position altogether unsupported by the
      > consensus of Milton scholarship before or since. Rather like THE
      > ALLEGORY OF LOVE, in fact, which claimed in essence that before the
      > 12th century people didn't have love, only sex, or the claim CSL makes
      > somewhere that the Renaissance never happened in England -- all fun
      > arguments, all delivered with great verve, and all dismissed by pretty
      > much everybody else writing on the subject.
      >
      >
      David Lenander
      d-lena@... or david_lenander@...
      2095 Hamline Ave. N.
      Roseville, MN 55113
      651-292-8887 or 651-697-1807
      http://www.umn.edu/~d-lena/RIVENDELL.html
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