A Reassessment of Milton's God
In 1961, William Empson's Milton's God made bold entrance into the critical debate over Paradise Lost. Its argument picks up where Shelley had left off. In Paradise Lost, Empson claims, Milton provides his God with the strongest defense he possibly could, and succeeds in representing a deity “noticeably less wicked than the traditional Christian one”; despite the poet's best efforts, however, he cannot alter the basic facts of the case, and the inherent wickedness of the Christian God rubs off on Milton's version as well. 1. The book caused a stir when it appeared, and its bold argument and vigorous prose have continued to provoke strong reactions for four decades; in 1995 the Milton Society of America recognized the importance of Milton's God by naming Empson posthumously as one of its honored scholars, though the decision prompted sharply dissenting opinions from a number of the society's members. While Milton's God is generally acknowledged as a landmark in the ﬁeld, it remains a landmark in whose vicinity later scholars have been reluctant to build. Secular-minded Miltonists tend to view Empson's book as an interesting wrong turn, an idiosyncratic reading by a brilliant critic; scholars sympathetic to Christianity tend to view the book as willfully perverse, and have spent considerable energy trying to refute it. At the present it is widely assumed that their efforts have succeeded, and direct response to Empson is in abeyance. 2.Milton's God occupies a singular position; it belongs to that rare class of critical works still widely read forty years after initial publication, yet____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Fault Lines and Controversies in the Study of Seventeenth-Century English Literature. Contributors: Claude J. Summers - Editor, Ted-Larry Pebworth - Editor. Publisher: University of Missouri Press. Place of publication: Columbia, MO. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 73.
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