A Reading of Paradise Lost

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Miss Gardner's book is a collection of lectures. It is not about Milton's rhetoric or imagery, but about his whole high argument considered as an imaginative structure. What is its shape? how does it cohere? what is the relationship, within Milton's universe, of the cosmic theme to the human theme? -- these are her topics. In all her discussions Miss Gardner's special strength lies in her power to wing a 'middle flight' between two other opposites: the historical and the 'absolute' kinds of criticism; the one treating a poem wholly as a product of its age, and the other treating it as an aesthetic object in vacuo. Miss Gardner can look at Paradise Lost with an innocent eye and savour it with a taste uncorrupted by literary prejudice; but her appreciation is enriched and authenticated by her profound knowledge of the seventeenth century mind. She knows how much common ground Milton shared with his readers; how far he could expect them to suspend their disbelief; how much they would take for granted as scriptural and therefore true, and how much they could accept as 'accommodation' or probable fiction, or even as mere epic machinery and amplification. - Basil Willey.

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Paradise Lost Today
The Universe of Paradise Lost
The Cosmic Theme
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