The Gender of Milton's Muse
and the Problem of the Fit Reader

Maureen Quilligan

If we ... look at one of Milton's invocations in Paradise Lost, we shall see how he confronts the problems of the gender of inspiration and the concomitant problem of his reader's gender. In book 7 Milton invokes his muse for the first time by a specific name—Urania—and for the first time explicitly indicates that the Muse can be figured forth as female in gender. (In book 1, Milton invokes a double-gendered Spirit, who "with mighty wings outspread / Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss / And madest it pregnant" (1.20-22). The Invocation to book 3, insofar as it associates the Holy Light with the Son/sun (potentially distinct from the Muse), would appear to address a more specifically masculine source of inspiration. However, guessing the genders to the first two invocations is not as important as sensing the peculiar impact of Milton's directly assigning one in book 7.) Embedded within this invocation is Milton's most famous remark about his readership; it is important to look closely at the interconnections between the source of his inspiration and his fears about his audience. After naming Urania, he makes a request:

Return me to my native element:
Lest from this flying steed unreined, (as once
Bellerophon, though from a lower clime)
Dismounted, on the Aleian field I fall
Erroneous there to wander and forlorn.

From Milton's Spenser: The Politics of Reading. © 1983 by Cornell University Press.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
John Milton's Paradise Lost


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 175

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?