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

By J. Martin Evans | Go to book overview

Introduction

The subject of an epick poem is naturally an event of great importance. That of Milton is not the destruction of a city, the conduct of a colony, or the foundation of an empire.

- Samuel Johnson, "The Life of Milton"

Just over thirty years ago my former colleague George F. Sensabaugh published a book titled Milton in Early America in which he explored the impact of the poet's writings on antebellum American culture. In a very real sense the present volume may be described as a complement to his, for its subject is early America in Milton, specifically the impact of America's colonization on Paradise Lost. The idea that Milton's epic might have something to do with the discovery and settlement of the New World first occurred to me while I was preparing an edition of Books 9 and 10 for the Cambridge Milton in 1972. Satan, I noticed, was greeted by his followers in Hell as a "great adventurer" newly returned "from the search / Of Forrein Worlds" (10.440-41), while his victims were explicitly compared with "th'American" discovered by Columbus "wilde / Among the Trees on Iles and woodie Shores" (9.1116-18). The Fall, I concluded, could thus be seen as an act of imperial conquest by "history's first colonist." 1

At the time, I did not pursue the implications of this idea any further, partly because they would have taken me far beyond the limits of the project at hand and partly, I suspect, because the interpretive context within which I was then working was not especially conducive to such speculations. During the past twenty years or so, however, the critical landscape has been transformed by a series of theoretical developments that have made it possible to interrogate both canonical and noncanonical texts in ways that would have been

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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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