Milton and the Victorians

Milton and the Victorians

Erik Gray
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
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    Milton and the Victorians
    Book Description:

    The Victorian period was a golden age for the study of Milton. Yet the influence of Milton on poetry, and on literature more generally, during the period is often obscure. Victorian writers rarely display the overt, self-conscious engagement with Milton that typified so much Romantic writing earlier in the nineteenth century. In Milton and the Victorians, Erik Gray argues that this shift represents not a breach but an expansion: if Milton's influence seems less remarkable than before, it is due not to his absence but to his pervasiveness.

    Through detailed consideration of works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, and George Eliot, Gray shows how Victorian writers tended to draw upon the less sublime, more understated elements of Milton's writings. In tracing the characteristically oblique influence of Milton on Victorian authors, Gray also draws attention to important aspects of Milton's own work, notably the way it often depicts power being exerted indirectly. Gray thus proposes new and nuanced models of literary relations, while offering original and elegant readings both of Milton's poetry and of major works of Victorian literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5865-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Editions and Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Dark with Excessive Bright: The Victorian Milton
    (pp. 1-24)

    Thomas De Quincey saw more than a touch of Milton in William Wordsworth. Not long after he first met Wordsworth in 1807, De Quincey bought a commentary on Paradise Lost that had as its frontispiece an engraving of Milton, said to be very accurate. “Judge of my astonishment,” he writes, “when, in this portrait of Milton, I saw a likeness nearly perfect of Wordsworth, better by much than any which I have since seen, of those expressly painted for himself.” De Quincey showed the picture to Wordsworth’s family, who agreed with him about the likeness, and even the poet himself...

  6. Chapter 2 Milton as Classic, Milton as Bible
    (pp. 25-59)

    The differences between the Romantic and the Victorian Milton are due, as we have seen, not to any decline in awareness of Milton on the part of the Victorians, but quite the contrary. The very fact that Romantic poets so frequently and self-consciously invoked Milton rendered it unnecessary for Victorian poets to do the same, and various other external factors, such as David Masson’s biography, contributed to make Milton “dark with excessive bright.” But it is important to recognize as well the internal features of Milton’s poetry that render it inherently so familiar as to escape mention. In this chapter...

  7. Chapter 3 Milton, Arnold, and the Might of Weakness
    (pp. 60-91)

    First, an example from Anthony Trollope. The Warden and Barchester Towers, which make up the first two installments of Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and together form a single, near-continuous narrative, are among the most prelatical novels in the English language. Their sympathies seem entirely un-Miltonic. All of the admirable characters (the male ones at least) are members and defenders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy—bishops, deans, archdeacons, some of them holding multiple benefices; they are the very princes of the church against whom Milton fulminated, beginning with his first political pamphlet, Of Reformation. The villains, meanwhile, are reformers: in The Warden,...

  8. Chapter 4 Milton and Tennyson: Diffusive Power
    (pp. 92-129)

    The earliest extant piece of Alfred Tennyson’s writing is a letter to his aunt, composed when he was twelve years old. Nearly the entire letter is devoted to the schoolboy’s criticism of Milton. “Going into the library this morning,” he writes, “I picked up ‘Sampson Agonistes,’ on which (as I think it is a play you like) I shall send you my remarks.” Those remarks comprise a tissue of cross-reference: one passage “puts me in mind of that in Dante, which Lord Byron has prefixed to his ‘Corsair’ ”; another passage, in which Samson is said to be “carelessly diffused,”...

  9. Chapter 5 Middlemarch and Milton’s Troubled Transmissions
    (pp. 130-151)

    George Eliot’s Middlemarch engages with Milton as deeply as any work of Victorian literature, and with an aspect of Milton we have not yet considered. The “Prelude” to the novel begins precisely where Paradise Lost ends, with a pair of figures walking forth “hand-in-hand.”¹ The first chapter then introduces Milton by name: Dorothea Brooke, dreaming of an ideal husband, “felt sure that she would have accepted . . . John Milton when his blindness had come on” (M 10; ch. 1). Already in these opening pages, Eliot invokes not only Milton’s poetry (“hand in hand”), as Arnold and Tennyson do,...

  10. Chapter 6 The Heirs of Milton
    (pp. 152-170)

    Personal legacies, as George Eliot reminds us in Middlemarch (with Milton’s example in mind), can be at the same time powerful and fragile—fragile precisely because, by the time they take effect, they have necessarily passed out of our personal control. The same is true of literary legacies, or influences, and in this concluding chapter I consider the ways in which Milton’s relation to the Victorians can help us understand the complexities of literary influence more generally. The chapter is divided into two parts. The first places this book in the context of other studies of Milton’s influence and of...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 171-180)
  12. Index
    (pp. 181-184)