Book Meme Challenge:
A Book I Hated
There is a book that I can recognize as brilliant, the work of an artistic genius; possibly the highest culmination of linguistic, rhetoric, poetic, and narrative mastery in the English language.
And I wish to the High Heavens that it had never been written.
By John Milton
Undeniably, Milton was a linguistic genius. His phrasing and powers of imagery and symbolism are fantastic. The way that he works the form and has subtle messages imbedded in the text – one description of the heavens uses the first letter of each line to spell “stars” down the stanza – is brilliant. And the fact that he wrote it all while he was blind, memorizing his lines until he could dictate them to his daughters, makes this work even more amazing.
But I hate this book.
With a loathing usually reserved for bratty teenagers and live chickens.
My distaste is partly because I cannot separate the work from the author. I find that Milton was arrogant and had jerk-like tendencies. He declared that there should be a Great English Epic to rival Virgil, and so HE should write one. He decided that the subject of this epic should be even grander and more important that Dante’s material, and so he determined to “justify God’s ways to man”.
In addition, the book displays a lot of theology with which I am not only uncomfortable but that actually make angry. That I would disagree with a supposed Anglican on some issues is inevitable, but Milton took it one step further and edges into a strange sort of almost chauvinistic gnosticism.
This was the man who wrote tracts ‘proving’ that polygamy was the ideal order created by God. The man who implied that woman are the source of all that is wicked. And that is only the tip of the situation; what Paradise Lost implies about the person of Christ also makes me fume. I dare not open up that can of worms here. Suffice it to say, I believe it would be difficult to find a thoughtful Christian who agrees completely with Milton.
Moreover, as skilled as he is with poetry, (“Lycidas” is gorgeous,) the long, long, long verses of Paradise Lost begin to feel like Chinese water torture. Drip, drip, drip.
I have read – or was supposed to read – Paradise Lost in three different classes. Each time it only got worse. Although C.S. Lewis does give a beautiful preface to this book, it still does not win my affection. Respect, possibly. But even a mild tolerance, no.
Something about Milton and his treatment of Eve – and all women – brings out my closet feminism. Normally, I am a sedate, dress-loving, kitchen-inhabiting, home-oriented female. I appreciate men who open doors for me. But when I am told that I cannot do something or are somehow inferior based solely on my sex, then all my rebellion shoots up like a solar flare. I am glad for many reasons that women got the vote, but mainly to sock it to Milton.
My favorite answer to Milton’s challenge comes from A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad; “Malt does more than Milton can, / To justify God’s ways to man.”
A truer word was never spoken.