January 1st, 2012

silver and steel

Review: The Cambridge Companion to Milton

The Cambridge Companion to Milton (Cambridge Companions to Literature)The Cambridge Companion to Milton by Dennis Danielson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, if the Goodreads dates are to be believed, this book took me exactly a year to read. Some of that reflects the fact that it is a collection of essays of varying quality and interest. Some of that reflects that I still tend to read on my Kindle more when I'm traveling, so Kindle books get read in spurts rather than steadily. And some of that reflects that the life and work of John Milton, whatever their many redeeming qualities, rarely qualify as light reading.

I picked this book up after my most recent rereading of Paradise Lost, because I'd been struck by three things I hadn't much noticed on my previous readings, and I wanted to see what others had to say about them. The first was Milton's portrayal of Eve, and the way he seemed to lurch between an almost proto-feminism and rote affirmations of male superiority. The second was that the fallen angels in Hell give a set of speeches justifying their rebellion that frankly seem to echo the kinds of arguments that the anti-royal side in the English Civil War would have used, and given that Milton was on the anti-royal side, that seemed worthy of comment. The third thing was the curious amount of space and detail that Milton devotes to explaining that yes, angels have sex. If Milton were a modern science-fiction writer, I might have passed that off as a gratuitous bit of world building detail, but I was pretty sure that the archangelic shagging was there to prove a doctrinal point, but that I wasn't sufficiently deeply steeped in Milton's worldview to have any idea what it was.

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In conclusion, I should note that my reading of this book prompted a very interesting New Year's Eve party conversation that has in turn spawned a very active Google+ thread. So it's currently riding very high in the social and cultural capital rankings.

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