Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

By Kristin A. Pruitt; Charles W. Durham | Go to book overview

“Wide Was the Wound”: Cesarean Section
and the Birth of Eve

SUSAN MCDONALD

In recent years, literary, historical, and cultural scholars have begun the investigation into the interpretations, perceptions, and representations informing early modern midwifery and obstetrical practices. In 1993, and again in 1995, Louis Schwartz argued the relevance of such investigations to the study of Milton, reminding us that, as a man who was not only conversant in medical and scientific knowledge but one who had also lost two wives to the complications of childbirth, Milton could easily be understood as sensitive to the issues and tensions that surrounded childbirth in the seventeenth century. While Schwartz touches upon the relevance of cesarean section as practiced in the seventeenth century to Milton's vision of birth, he focuses primarily upon obstetrical matters other than cesarean section.1 However, a consideration of the issues attending early modern childbirth and, in particular, cesarean section suggests Milton's invocation of the particular procedures and fears of that obstetrical method to indicate that which, ultimately, cannot be: childbirth without fear, pain, or death.

As numerous scholars have observed, Paradise Lost presents birth in various forms on various occasions. In The Dialectics of Creation, Michael Lieb maintains that the images of reproduction and generation represented within the work give expression to the struggles between good and evil, creation and degradation, as well as profane and pious poetics.2 Most noticeably, fallen birth signals the degradation of those productive beings precisely because of its resemblance to postlapsarian human experience, although the womb itself frequently appears as a place of potential. Neither inherently good nor evil, the womb becomes a place of creation or, more ominously, uncreation. Thus, while Sin offers a recognizable image of postlapsarian childbirth, this contrasts with the “great mother” of the book 7 creation se-

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