MILTON REVIEW 
Benet, Diana T. & Lieb, Michael (eds). Literary Milton: Text, Pretext,
Context, Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1994. xxi+270pp. $48.00
Reviewed by Geoff Ridden <email@example.com>
November 12, 1996
- One of the principal tensions in literary studies, as in the study of any
art form, is that between meaning and aesthetic. We look for meaning in
literature - even as you read this review, you are seeking meaning in
addition to pleasure. One of the ways in which the study of literature has
come to replace Biblical study is this pursuit of hermeneutics, this search
for a universal meaning, equally true for and equally relevant to all ages.
In Milton studies, this has led to a prioritizing of work concerned with
meaning rather than with art: students have come to read Paradise Lost as
if it were a novel, ignoring both the aesthetic appeal of the poem, and the
forces which bring 'meaning' into being. It may be that the medium is not
only the message but also the process by which that message is massaged
- This collection of ten essays reverses that trend, working from the premise
that it is necessary for context once more to assume the highground of
literary criticism, and for critics to engage in consideration of the
'limina' or thresholds which define the identity of the literary text, and,
indeed, define what it is to be 'literary'.
- The concept of 'limina', presented in the exceptionally acute introductory
pages, derives from the work of John T. Shawcross, to whom the volume is
dedicated, and whose work and name are regularly invoked in the essays
- This is a valuable body of work, which gives attention to detail rather
than restricting its concern to the overarching architectonic. Its
contributors are drawn from the front rank of Milton scholarship; in
addition to chapters from the editors themselves, there are chapters from
Regina M. Schwartz, Annabel Patterson, Mary Ann Radzinowicz, Diane
McColley, Joseph Wittreich, Stephen M. Fallon, Jason P. Rosenblatt and
Barbara K. Lewalski.
- It is difficult and seems almost invidious to select essays for particular
praise, but I did especially enjoy the contributions from Annabel
Patterson, Michael Lieb and Joseph Wittreich. Professor Patterson, in 'That
Old Man Eloquent' reviews how the term 'literature' has been used by Joan
Webber, Mary Ann Radzinowicz and Anna Nardo. She demonstrates how carefully
one must attend to the ordering of Milton's sonnets in their different
published forms, and how shifts in the wording of their titles might become
very significant. Michael Lieb considers the description of Adam and Eve in
Book IV, as seen through the eyes of Satan, and notes the relationship of
this description with its contexts: the context of the Satanic perspective
upon Eden, and the context of the earlier descriptions of Satan's view of
Sin and Death:
- "Defined intratextually as the product of Satan's act of beholding
within the immediate confines of the Edenic environment and within the
larger framework of the landscape of Hell, the passage exhibits its
of limina through which its problematic nature is given full
He then moves on to consider the intertextual determinants, not least the
influence of Pauline writings on the male/female relationship.
- The very next essay in the collection (is this in itself a significant
contextual feature of this work?) is Joseph Wittreich's chapter on gender
Discourse in Paradise Lost. The library copy on which I was working had
acquired its own patina of extra liminal meaning in the marginal annotation
by a previous reader, perhaps a student writing an essay on Milton and
misogyny. This reader clearly found it hard to deal with the large parts of
this chapter which were concerned with the broader issue of the situation
of Paradise Lost within a whole array of available discourses on gender
in the seventeenth century: I hope that s/he will return to this debate at
a later stage. The chapter examines in stimulating fashion the way in
which Paradise Lost is situated within ambiguous and contradictory
scriptural traditions of gender discourse, and how Milton seeks to
accommodate his epic within the conflicting and competing accounts of
Creation presented in the early chapters of Genesis.
King Alfred's College of Higher Education, Winchester
Library of Congress Information
Title: Literary Milton : text, pretext, context / edited by
Diana Trevišno Benet & Michael Lieb.
Published: Pittsburgh, Pa. : Duquesne University Press, c1994.
Description: xxi, 274 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Series: Duquesne studies. Language and literature series ; v.
LC Call No.: PR3588 .L58 1994
Dewey No.: 821/.4 20
ISBN: 0820702595 : $48.00
Notes: Includes bibliographical references (p. 221-264) and
Subjects: Milton, John, -- 1608-1674 -- Criticism and
Other authors: Benet, Diana.
Lieb, Michael, 1940-
Control No.: 94011292
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November 12, 1996