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Answerable Style

Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost

Copyright Date: 1953
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    Answerable Style
    Book Description:

    By the use of both new and traditional techniques of critical analysis, Arnold Stein presents in this volume of six essays a fresh interpretation of Milton’s epic._x000B_Beginning with the assumption that style is “answerable” to idea, he has tried to trace Milton’s epic vision as it is bodied forth in patterns of structure (the ideas tested in action) and patterns of expression (the ideas tested in style). Mr. Stein explains: “My approach is in part based on an attempt to accept as fact both that I am a twentieth-century reader and that this is a seventeenth-century poem. Milton is, I think, illuminated by some modern critical considerations; and some of those considerations are in turn illuminated, and some are found wanting.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6455-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. SATAN
    (pp. 3-16)

    One need not choose between Satan’s being a tragic hero or an absurd villain. Either extreme stamps us as a more restricted moralist than Milton the poet. For then we are less able than Milton to admit the test of contradiction into the moral universe of our art. If Satan is a tragic hero, it is because we are not honestly willing to test good by evil. If Satan is merely an absurd villain, it is because we want to ground our art upon too narrow a certainty; it is because we prefer the idea, and the confirmation of our...

    (pp. 17-37)

    If the war in heaven is approached as Milton’s fulfillment of his epic obligations, if we regard it as a realistic war to be taken quite literally — then we cannot escape Dr. Johnson’s verdict that the “confusion of spirit and matter” fills the whole narrative with “incongruity.” How can we believe in the fiction of a raging battle in which immortal spirits uncomplainingly confine themselves in hindering armor and, in between verbal debates, use material weapons that lessen their might? But suppose the material action of the war does not exist for its literal and independent meaning, but is...

    (pp. 38-51)

    In hell the broad and powerful effects that make the major impressions are the effects of defiance and achievement. But these play against a small and telling counterpoint. If we remember only the bold effects, or if we discount them logically or historically, we are abstracting separate themes that have their full meaning only in the total context of their development.

    There are early intimations that hell is not static. The first occurs when Satan, still prone on the flood, observes that the sulphurous hail “oreblown” has laid the “fiery Surge,” and that thunder “Perhaps hath spent his shafts.” The...

    (pp. 52-74)

    We first approach the happy Garden from the Fall. Immediately outside this “happy rural seat of various view” is the impassable wilderness — steep, hairy, overgrown, grotesque, wild, denying access; the trees that rise in ascent are of insuperable height; beneath them all is steep and savage, entwined, tangling, perplexing. That seems to be part of the various view, though outside. It is presented with an intensity of detail and sustained frustration, then interrupted by a glimpse and asenseof Paradise, then returned to with a varied repetition that changes nothing, except the tightness of our expectations. It has...

    (pp. 75-118)

    The angels fall by their “own suggestion” and “self-tempted.” Man falls “deceived” by Satan. This must mean, what Milton never tries to make dramatically real, that Satan is only the spokesman of the consciousness of his followers — an internal agent rather than an external agent. The temptation must have been a kind of spontaneous mass contagion — their “own suggestion.” In hell and in Paradise Satan does not maintain the relationship toward his followers that God in His omniscience has revealed. But then Satan, under conscious guilt, has partly separated himself from himself. He assumes the role of external...

    (pp. 119-162)

    When the Creator viewed the six days’ work and saw “all was entirely good,” He returned to behold

    how it shew’d

    In prospect from his Throne, how good, how faire, Answering his great Idea. (VII, 555ff)

    The poet-creator, entirely human in “long choosing, and beginning late,” has “this Subject for Heroic Song,” and he has “the highth of this great Argument.” On a humbler plane he may no doubt have his own “great Idea,” to which the whole poem must be answerable. But even the divine Creator will want to view in prospect the answerability of work to Idea; and...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 163-164)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 165-166)