Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot

Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot

by Anna Beer
     
 

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John Milton (1608-1674) is best known as the author of the masterful epic retelling of fall of man, Paradise Lost. But he was more than just the 17th century voice of Satan. Wise and witty scholar Anna Beer traces his literary roots to a youthful passion for ancient verse, especially Ovid. She also rounds out parts of his life that have

Overview

John Milton (1608-1674) is best known as the author of the masterful epic retelling of fall of man, Paradise Lost. But he was more than just the 17th century voice of Satan. Wise and witty scholar Anna Beer traces his literary roots to a youthful passion for ancient verse, especially Ovid. She also rounds out parts of his life that have been, until now, little studied. Milton was deeply involved in the political and religious controversies of his time, writing a series of pamphlets on free speech, divorce, and religious, political and social rights that forced a complete rethinking of the nature and practice not only of government, but of human freedom itself. He struggled to survive through Cromwell's rise to power, chaotic reign and death, and then the restoration of the monarchy.


Milton's personal life was just as rich and complex as his professional, and here it receives a fresh assessment. For centuries, he has emerged from biographies either as a woman-hating domestic tyrant or as a saintly figure removed from the messy business of personal affections. While Milton was probably a touch tyrant and saint, Beer suggests he also suffered lifelong heartache at the untimely death of his intimate friend Charles Diodati, with whom he was likely in love. Milton's context, from religious persecution to institutional turmoil to sexual politics, is as central to the book as Milton himself. With extensive new research, Milton emerges from Anna Beer's ground-breaking biography for the first time as a fully rounded human being.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Four hundred years after John Milton's birth, biographer and Oxford lecturer Beer (Bess: The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter) presents a loving tribute, a portrait of the poet in all his humanity. Drawing on newly available archives, Beer elegantly chronicles Milton's life from his precocious childhood (he read Greek and Latin when he was five) to his embattled support of Cromwell and his mature religious and political writings. Beer points out that Milton wasn't a one-note writer, but excelled in producing religious pamphlets (The Reason of Church Government), treatises on education and divorce (Areopagitica and The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce) and epic poetry (Paradise Lost). Although the specifics of Milton's three marriages are well known, Beer reveals the details of a little-discussed aspect of the poet's life: his passionate, and perhaps homoerotic, friendship with Charles Diodati. Planting Milton firmly in his time, one of political and religious upheaval, Beer's splendid biography portrays Milton (d. 1674) as "both a radical and a traditionalist" who drew on classical and Christian sources to contend again and again for freedom from tyranny and oppression. B&w illus. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

John Milton's books were publicly burned on two occasions-1660 and 1683-the result of the fear and hostility he inspired in many of his 17th-century contemporaries. How would Milton-the man who once wrote "as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book"-have felt about these incidents? Here, Beer (literature, Oxford Univ.; Bess: The Life of Lady Raleigh, Wife to Sir Walter) supplies the detail to answer that question. She begins by examining Milton's life from childhood through adulthood, providing extensive background material to explain the events and issues that confronted and propelled him during his lifetime. Bemoaning the lack of personal documents or other records relating to Milton's domestic life, Beer, an eloquent writer and a distinguished scholar, instead turns to diaries of the period to supplement her discussion. Her admiration of her subject is apparent; she notes Milton's "extraordinary creativity," his "powerful political and religious engagement," and his defeat of the "challenging obstacles of blindness and censorship." This excellent volume, which celebrates the quartercentenary of Milton's birth, makes an excellent addition to the literature on his life and work and is highly recommended for academic libraries. (Index, maps, and artwork not seen.)
—Kathryn R. Bartelt

Kirkus Reviews
Rich, often laudatory biography of the creator of Paradise Lost. John Milton's life (1608-74) encompassed one of the most turbulent periods in English history, notes Beer (Literature/Oxford Univ.; My Just Desire: The Life of Bess Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter, 2003, etc.). A civil war, a beheaded king, a democracy that turned into dictatorship, a restoration of royalty, plague and the Great Fire are among the events that shaped his destiny. Beer's Milton emerges as a courageous, often wildly incautious republican whose life was more than once in jeopardy, though he was merely jailed while heads of his allies rolled. He was also a classical scholar nonpareil, one of the first political pamphleteers and, of course, a master of blank verse and of just about every other poetical form he attempted. Beer often digresses from the chronological narrative to examine such material as street life in Milton's native London, his attitudes toward women's education, his participation in the theological and political debates of the day and the titillating question of whether the revered author of a great religious poem at any point in his life "turn'd pure Italian" (i.e., had homosexual affairs). Readers will surely wince at her horrific account of contemporary medical practices, which did little to help Milton when he began going blind in 1644, or during his final torments from renal failure. Not wanting to try the patience of general readers by venturing too far into the deep end of prosody's pool, the author tends to praise more than analyze, and she occasionally offers block quotations from sources identified only in the end notes. Still, Beer takes us on an educative and often inspiring journey throughMilton's life and major works, dealing as best she can with the paucity of personal information (no family letters survive) and careful to note when she is speculating and when she is not. A well-researched, graceful account of the life of a literary giant.
From the Publisher

“It's a crucial part of the biographer's job to lead readers back through the life to the work. Beer does this very steadily and very well, and thereby gives Milton the anniversary present he deserves.” —Guardian

“Ms Beer roots Milton in his period very well, both historically and physically--in the streets of booksellers and printing presses around St Paul's cathedral in London.” —The Economist

“Beer gives a persuasive reading of the power and complexity of Paradis Lost, arguably the greatest religious poem in the English language.” —Times (London)

“How refreshing to find Anna Beer's new biography, which takes Milton as a real, whole, complex person. Beer's Milton is a writer of prodigious creativity, in Latin and English, prose and verse, but he always relates to his time and place, in the teeming, cruel streets of London and the brilliant academies of Italy. She gives us clear, common-sense readings of the literature, vivid evocations of the social and political world, and probing yet sympathetic analyses of Milton's own emotional states, when he was ‘in love with a man' or an ideal. The biographer and the subject share the qualities that he himself most valued in poetry: simple, sensuous and passionate.” —James Grantham Turner, author of One Flesh: Paradisal Marriage and Sexual Relations in the Age of Milton and Schooling Sex: Libertine Literature and Erotic Education in Italy, France, and England 1534-1685

“Anna Beer offers the most readable biography yet of the author of the most important poem in the English language. No one in the last 400 years has produced such a comprehensive portrait of the private man, the public citizen, the sublime poet, and the age he lived in.” —Jack Lynch, author of Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife that Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard

“This is a beautifully clear account of a richly complex life, an account which is also fascinatingly vivid on the political and social background of the time. It's the best narrative I've read of the life of our greatest public poet.” —Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass

author of Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely A Jack Lynch
Anna Beer offers the most readable biography yet of the author of the most important poem in the English language. No one in the last 400 years has produced such a comprehensive portrait of the private man, the public citizen, the sublime poet, and the age he lived in.
author of The Golden Compass Philip Pullman
It's the best narrative I 've read of the life of our greatest public poet.
author of Descartes: The Life and Times of a G A. C. Grayling
There is no more richly and scrupulously researched examination of Milton's life than Anna Beer's authoritative account.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608193783
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
09/01/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
480
File size:
7 MB

Meet the Author

Anna Beer is Lecturer in Literature and a Fellow of Kellogg College at the University of Oxford She is the author of the acclaimed Bess: The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter, and of an earlier study of Sir Walter Ralegh's life and works. She lives in Oxford with her family.
Anna Beer is Lecturer in Literature within the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Kellogg College. She is the author of the acclaimed Bess: The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter, and of an earlier academic study of Sir Walter Ralegh's life and works, Sir Walter Ralegh and his Readers in the Seventeenth Century. She lives in Oxford with her family.

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