Milton's Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism

By J. Martin Evans | Go to book overview

5 The Narrator

I have beene carefull to report nothing of New-England but what I have partly seene with mine owne Eyes, and partly heard and enquired from the Mouthes of verie honest and religious persons, who by living in the Countrey a good space of time have had experience and knowledge of the state thereof, and whose testimonies I doe beleeve as my selfe.

-- Francis Higginson, New-Englands Plantation

If Paradise Lost is as deeply imprinted with the thematics of colonialism as I have suggested in the preceding chapters, it would be surprising if the poem's narrator did not also speak in the characteristic accents of European colonial literature. 1 For Milton is engaged in essentially the same project as writers like John Frampton ( Joyfull newes oute of the newe founde worlde), Alexander Whitaker ( Good Newes From Virginia), Edward Winslow ( Good News from New-England), John Underhill ( Newes from America), and John Clarke ( Ill Newes from New- England). He is bringing back "news" from a world his readers have never seen. Just as Jean de Léry claims that he is going to speak "of things that it is very probable that no one before has ever seen, much less written about," Milton announces, in plain defiance of literary history, that his song will pursue "Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rime" (1.16), things which until now have remained "invisible to mortal sight" (3.55). 2

With the notable exception of Anthony Pagden comprehensive study, European Encounters with the New World, recent discussions of the way in which America was represented in the literature of Europe have focused mainly upon the linguistic aspects of the subject. 3 My emphasis here will be rather different, for like Pagden I am more interested in the various cognitive and narrative strategies deployed by

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Milton's Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Colonial Idea 10
  • 2 - The Colony 30
  • 3 - The Colonists 60
  • 4 - The Colonized 86
  • 5 - The Narrator 112
  • Conclusion 141
  • Notes 149
  • Bibliography 175
  • Index 189
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