recent years, a remarkably similar critical current, intent on neutralizing
oppositions, has been at work in feminist biblical commentaries on Genesis.
Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, claims for the spiritual equality
of the sexes have very often had recourse to Genesis 1.27, "So God
created man [ha adam, ostensibly a generic term] in his own image, in
the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.(3) This
verse, which is part of what is now considered the Priestly or "P"
creation account (Genesis I-2.4a), has always co-existed somewhat uneasily
with the more primitive and more obviously masculinist Yahwist or "J"
creation account in chapter 2, where the creator makes man from the dust
of the ground (thereby making hii' adam punningly relate to ha'adama,
the word for ground or earth) and woman from this man's rib. Within a
specifically Christian context, the relationship between the two accounts
has been --at least potentially --problematical, since I Timothy 2: I
1-14 uses the Yahwist account to bolster the prohibition against women
taking positions of authority within the Church: "Let the woman learn
in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor
to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first
formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived
was in the transgression." Recently, in an effort to reconcile feminism
and Christianity, Phyllis Trible has tried to harmonize the differences
between the Priestly and the Yahwist creation accounts. Trible holds that
the exegetical tradition
alone is responsible
for the sexist meanings usually attributed to the Yahwist creation story,
which she renarrates using methods that are basicall formalist
Trible argues that the second chapter of Genesis tells the story not
of the creation of a patriarchal Adam, from whom a secondary Eve is
derived, but the story of the creation of a generic and androgynous
earth creature or "man" to whom the sexually distinct woman
and man are related as full equals. Throughout, Trible's retelling is
strongly motivated by the desire to neutralize the discrepancy between
the "P" and the "J" accounts by assimilating "J"
to "P," which is assumed to recognize the equality of the
sexes and therefore to provide the meaning of the two creation accounts
taken together as one. Because "P" suggests the possibility
of a symmetrical, non-hierarchical relationship between male and female,
"J" is said by Trible to tell the story of the creation of
a sexually undifferentiated creature who becomes "sexed" only
with the creation of woman. The simultaneous emergence of woman and
man as equals is signalled, she argues, when Yahweh brings the newly
fashioned partner to the previously undifferentiated hii' adiim or "man,"
who responds with the lyrically erotic utterance: "This is now
bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man" (Genesis 2:23) (in Tribles reading
"taken out of" means "differentiated from"). (4)
Trible's revisionary and profoundly ahistorical , reading is significant
in large part because it has been so widely influential. Among feminist
theologians it would seem to have established a new orthodoxy. And it
has recently been ingeniously elaborated for a secular readership by
Mieke Bal, who assumes with Trible that the commentator can, by an effort
of will, position herself outside the traditions of masculinist interpretation;
and that Genesis bears no lasting traces of the patriarchal society
which produced it.(5) Yet it is far too easy to adopt the opposing or
rather complementary view that Genesis is a text inaugurating a transhistorically
homogeneous patriarchal culture. This is, unfortunately, a view that
is frequently expressed in connection with Paradise Lost. For in spite
of the existence of scholarly studies of Genesis in its various exegetical
traditions, the view that the relationship of Paradise Lost to Genesis
is basically direct or at least unproblematically mediated continues
to flourish. And so, as a result, does an entire network of misogynistic
\)or idealizing commonplaces and freefloating sexual stereotypes, relating,
indifferently, to Genesis and to this institutionally privileged text
by Milton, English literature's paradigmatic patriarch.
The notion of a
timeless and ideologically uninflected "patriarchy" is of
course vulnerable on many counts, not least of which is its capacity
to neutralize the experience of oppression. I would therefore like to
attempt to situate historically Milton's own appropriation of the Genesis
accounts. In the
process, I hope also to draw a preliminary sketch, in outline, of the
genealogy of that seductive but odd couple, mutuality and equality.
It is certainly not difficult to recognize the reading given Genesis
by Trible and Bal as a product of its time. Especially in North America,
the notion of an originary androgyny has had tremendous appeal to mainstream
or liberal feminism. Taken to represent an ideal yet attainable equality
of the sexes, androgyny is often associated metaphorically with an ideal
and egalitarian form of marriage. A passionate interest in this very
institution makes itself felt through Milton's divorce tracts, in which
his interpretation of the two creation accounts first appears. Milton's
exegesis, too is the product of an ideologically overdetermined desire
to unify the two different creation accounts in Genesis. Not surprisingly,
at the same time it is representative of the kind of masculinist "mis"-reading
that Trible and Bal seek to overturn. By emphasizing its historical
specificity, however, I hope to show that it is so for reasons that
cannot be universalized.
these two texts, first in the divorce tracts and then in Paradise Lost,
by adopting the radically uni-levelled or this-worldly Reformed method
of reconciling them For leading commentators such as Calvin and Pareus,
the two accounts do not correspond to two stages in the creation of
humankind, the intelligible and the sensible, as they do in an earlier,
Greco-Christian tradition. Indeed there are not in their view two accounts
in this sense at all but instead one story told in two different ways,
once, in the first chapter of Genesis, in epitome, and then, in the
second chapter, in a more elaborated form. Simplifying matters considerably,
and using terms introduced into the analysis of narrative by Gerard
Genette, one could say that in the view articulated especially cogently
by Calvin and then elaborated, aggressively, by Milton, the story consists
of the creation in the image of God of a single being supposed to be
representative of humankind, Adam, and then the creation of Eve; the
narrative discourse distributes this story by presenting it first in
a kind of abstract and then in a more detailed or amplified narrative
fashion. More specifically, the first two statements of Genesis 1:27,
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created
he him," are thought to refer to the creation of the representative
Adam, told in a more leisurely and graphic fashion as a creation involving
the use of the dust of the ground in the second chapter; while the concluding
"male and female created he them" is taken to refer to the
creation from this Adam of his meet help, Eve.
statements by Pareus, Milton writes of the second chapter's narrative
of Eve's creation- for Adam: "This second chapter is granted to
be a commentary on the first, and these verses granted to be an exposition
of that former verse, 'Male and female created he them.'"(6) Yet
the second chapter
can have the status of a commentary in part because of the gaps, ambiguities,
or troublesome suggestions to be found in the first. Commenting on the
blessing of fertility in Genesis I:28, for example, Calvin says that
it is actually given to the human couple after they have been joined
in "wedlocke," even though this event is not narrated until
the following chapter.(7) As this indicates, for Protestant commentators,
in so far as the! rhetorically amplified second version is capable of
interpreting and completing the account that comes before it in this
way, it is the last creation account that tends to take precedence over
If the Protestant exegetes Milton cites in his divorce tracts find the
meaning of "male and female created he them" in the narrative
of the creation of a help meet for Adam, they do so by reading that
narrative ideologically, as proving that marriage, far from being what
in their view the Roman Church would have it, a remedy prescribed for
the spiritually weak, is divinely instituted, indeed recommended. That
woman was created solely or even primarily for the purposes of procreation
is the low-minded or "crabbed" (Milton's adjective) opinion
the Protestant doctrine of marriage sees itself called to overturn.(8)
Emphasizing, eloquently, the psychological needs sanctioned by the deity's
words instituting marriage ("It is not good that the man should
be alone," Genesis 2: 18), the Reformers enable an emerging bourgeois
culture to produce what has the appearance at least of an egalitarian
view of the marital relation. The very phrase "meet for him"
is said by Calvin to suggest in the Hebrew keneged, the quality of being
"like or answerable unto"(quia illi respondeat) the man and
to indicate vividly that psychological rather than physical likeness
founds marriage as an institution.(9) Milton endorses this view when
he takes the untranslatably expressive Hebrew "originall"
to signify "another self, a second self, a very self itself"
(T 600), and also when he has the divine interlocutor promise Adam,
"Thy likeness, thy fit help, thy other self, / Thy wish, exactly
to thy heart's desire" (PL VIII.450-I).
As has often been pointed out, in the divorce tracts Milton raises to
unprecedented and undreamt of heights this early modern tendency to
idealize the marriage bond. The extent to which he relies upon an implicit
privileging of "J" over "P" (indeed, over the other
texts he treats, as well) in order to do so has, however, not been commented
upon. Milton's advocacy of a more liberalized interpretation of the
grounds for divorce proceeds by countering the mean-spirited misinterpretations
of scripture promulgated by scholastics and canonists.(l0) On its more
constructive front, it seeks to harmonize different and radically conflicting
scriptural texts. The most § taxing exegetical feat Milton has
to perform is the reconciliation of Matthew 19:3-11, which suggests
that remarriage after divorce is forbidden on grounds other than "fornication,"
and Deuteronomy 24: 1-2, which Milton reads as sanctioning divorce for
reasons of what we would I now call incompatibility. Tetrachordon, the
tract in which Milton's skills as
exegete are most on display, announces in its very title his determination
to establish unity and sameness in the place of seeming difference and
contradiction. Meaning "four-stringed," and thus referring
to the four-toned Greek scale, Tetrachordon attempts to harmonize what
on the title page are referred to as the "foure chief places in
Scripture, which treat of Mariage, or nullities in Mariage." The
first text given on the title page is "Gen. 1.27.28 compar'd and
explain'd by Gen. 220.127.116.11" (T 577; my emphasis) .(11)
The explaining of Genesis 1 by Genesis 2 is of multi-fronted strategic
importance to Milton's polemical attack on existing English divorce
laws, which don't properly recognize the spiritual nature of marriage.
First and foremost, it permits Milton to exploit rhetorically the sexual
connotations of "male and female," essential to the divorce
tracts' central, most tirelessly worded argument, which is that neither
sexual union in and of itself nor procreation is the primary end of
marriage as originally constituted. Commenting directly on "Male
and female created he them" in T etrachordon, Milton states it
has reference to "the right, and lawfulness of the mariage bed."
When relating this text to its immediate context, he claims that sexual
union is an "inferior" end to that implied by the earlier
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created
he him" (Milton's detailed exegesis of which I'll be coming back
to later on) (T 592). As this suggests, a bi-polar and hierarchical
ordering of the spiritual and physical dimensions of experience structures
many of the exegetical moves in these tracts. The following commentary
on "male and female" is fairly representative, and illustrates,
in addition, the important role played by "J:"
He that said Male
and female created he them, immediately before that said also in the
same verse, In the Image of God created he him, and redoubl'd it, that
our thoughts might not be so full of dregs as to urge this poor consideration
of male and female, without remembring the noblenes of that former repetition;
lest when God sends a wise eye to examin our triviall glosses, they
be found extremly to creep upon the ground: especially since they confesse
that what here concerns mariage is but a brief touch, only preparative
to the institution which follows more expressely in the next Chapter.
(T 592) .
The divorce tracts
seek to persuade the mind that doesn't want to creep upon the ground
that it should be duly impressed with the fact that in Genesis 2: 18
God himself speaks, revealing in no uncertain terms what the end of
marriage is: "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man
should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." Expounding
the true meaning of the earlier verse, "Male and female created
he them," this verse declares "by the explicite words of God
himselfe" that male and female is none other "than a fit help,
and meet society" (T 594). Milton is
willing to put this even more strongly. It's not just that we have here
the words of God himself, expounding the meaning of an earlier text.
God here actually explains himself: "For God does not heer precisely
say, I make a female to this male, as he did briefly before, but expounding
himselfe heer on purpos, he saith, because it is not good for man to
be alone, I make him therefore a meet help" (T595) .
In Milton's exegetical
practice, then, "J"'s narrative makes possible a spiritualized
interpretation of the more lowly and bodily "male and female."
Indeed, "J"'s narrative, understood as instituting a relationship
primarily psychological, provides the very basis for the passages emphasizing
mutuality to be found throughout the divorce tracts. The above citations
don't begin to convey the eloquence with which Milton can celebrate
the pleasures of a heterosexual union that is ideally --that is, on
the spiritual plane intended by its divine institution --fitting or
meet. And there are numerous other moments in these works where without
rhetorical flourish mutuality is clearly asserted or implied. The woman
and man of the marriage relation can, for example, be referred to as
"helps meete for each other."(12) On a more practical level,
and of direct relevance to the legal reforms he is proposing, is the
statement Milton offers of his position when opening the first chapter
of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce: "That indisposition,
unfitnes, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature unchangable,
hindring and ever likely to hinder the main benefits of conjugall society,
which are solace and peace, is a greater reason of divorce then naturall
frigidity, especially if there be no children, and that there be mutuall
consent" (DDD 242). The explicit reference to "mutuall consent"
here is matched or perhaps even deliberately introduced by the opening
words of the subtitle appearing in both the first and second editions
of this work: "Restor'd to the Good of Both Sexes, From the bondage
of Canon Law and other mistakes . . . ."
Yet much as the
dominant discourse of the academy might like to celebrate this praiseworthy
attention to mutuality, there are very few passages of any length in
the divorce tracts that can be dressed up for the occasion. For over
and over again, this laudable mutuality loses its balance, teetering
precariously on the brink of pure abstraction. And the reason it does
so is that it stands on the ground (to recall the play on ha-'a-da-mâ)
of a lonely Adam who is not in any sense either ungendered or generic.
It becomes clear, finally, that the concluding phrase of Milton's position
statement --"and that there be mutuall consent" --is not expected
to stand up in a court of law. In the penultimate chapter of the second
edition of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Milton states his
view "that the absolute and final hindring of divorce cannot belong
to any civil or earthly power, against the will and consent of both
parties, or of the husband alone" (DDD 344; my emphasis). Even
if this could, improbably, be attributed to a moment's forgetfulness
on the part of an author busy revising and enlarging
his original, it
still wouldn't be able to pass itself off as an instance of simple self-contradiction.
For as I hope to show, this particular assertion is also the self-consistent
outcome of the deeply masculinist assumptions at work in Milton's articulation
of a radically bourgeois view of marriage.
Time and again,
the language of the tracts passes through the use of plural forms potentially
inclusive of both sexes only to come to rest with a nongenerically masculine
"he." As the discussion up to this point has indicated, in
so far as the story of Eve's creation from Adam's rib is thought to
articulate the Protestant doctrine of marriage, it is not her creation
after Adam per se ,that is so significant but her creation for him,
to remedy his loneliness. The egalitarian sentiments expressed, sporadically,
throughout the divorce tracts therefore cannot finally obscure Eve's
secondary status as a "gift" from one patriarch to another.
Created for Adam, Eve is, as Adam puts it in Paradise Lost, "Heav'n's
last best gift" (V.19). Yet Eve is also, of course, created from
Adam, as well as for him. And in Milton's view, as Adam's "likeness"
Eve does not even have the status -to use Satan's description of "man"
in Paradise Lost --of the Father's "latest," meaning most
recent, "image" (IV. 567). For by unifying the two creation
stories in the way Reformed principles permit him to, Milton's exegesis
makes possible the production of two ideologically charged and historically
specific readings, contradictorily related: on the one hand an interpretation
of "male and female" that psychologizes heterosexual union
and dignifies marriage, and on the other an explication of "created
man in his image" that tends to restrict the meaning of "man"
to an individual Adam, from whom and for whom the female is then made.
It is important
to put this exactly, for of course biblical commentators always claim
that woman is also in some sense made in the image of God. Calvin, like
Milton, however, locates the generic sense of "man" directly
in the first and gendered man's representative status. Commenting on
Genesis 2: 18, "I will make him an help meet for him," Calvin
responds to the question, why isn't the plural form "Let us make"
used here, as it was in the creation of "man"?:
Some think, that
by this speach, the difference which is betweene both sexes is noted,
and that so it is shewed, how much more excellent the man is, then the
woman. But I like better of another interpretation, which differeth
somewhat, though it be not altogether contrarie: namely, that when in
the person of man, mankinde was created, the common worthinesse of the
whole nature, was with one title generally adorned, where it is said,
Let us make man: and that it was not needful to be repeated in the creating
of the woman, which was nothing else but the addition and furniture
of the man [quae nihil aliud est quam viri accessio]. It cannot be denied,
but the woman also was created after the image of God, though in the
seconde degree. Whereupon it followeth,
that the same which was spoken in the creation of the man, perteineth
to womankind. (13)
masculinist, "Hee for God only, shee for God in him" in Paradise
Lost obviously goes much further than Calvin in drawing out the masculinist
implications of this hermeneutical practice, which forges an identity
between the generic and the gendered "man." In Tetrachordon,
too, Milton pursues the logic of this exegesis with a maddening and
motivated precision. In his commentary on "in the image of God
created he him," the intermediate statement of Genesis I: 27, he
states that "the woman is not primarily and immediately the image
of God, but in reference to the man," on the grounds that though
the "Image of God" is common to them both, "had the Image
of God been equally common to them both, it had no doubt bin said, In
the image of God created he them" (T 589).
So it continues to matter that Adam was formed first, then Eve. As a
further means of taking the measure of Milton's interest in this priority,
I would now like to discuss three seventeenth-century texts more favourably
disposed towards an egalitarian interpretation of Genesis. Although
research in this area is still underway, it is safe to say that Milton
could not but have known that questions of priority figure prominently
in the Renaissance debate over "woman" we now know as the
"Querelle des Femmes." In A Mouzell for Melastomus, the cynicall
bayter ot and foule mouthed barker against Evahs sex, for example, one
of the feminist responses to Joseph Swetnam's The Araignment of lewd,
idle, forward and unconstant women, Rachel Speght appeals several times
to the privilege assumed to be a property of firstness. Speght mentions
that although it is true that woman was the first to sin, it is also
woman who receives the "first promise" that God makes in Paradise;
she argues that the dignity of marriage is proved by Jesus honouring
a wedding ceremony with "the first miracle that he wrought;"
and that the spiritual equality of the sexes is shown when after his
Resurrection Christ "appeared unto a woman first of all other."
In the restricted intellectual economyof the "Querelle," orthodox
views of male superiority are frequently countered by paradoxical assertions
of female superiority. Lastness is therefore placed in the service of
overturning firstness, as in Joan Sharpe's poetic ddfense of women against
Swetnam's Araignment, where it is claimed: "Women were the last
worke, and therefore the best, / For what was the end, excelleth the
rest." (15) Speght, however, deliberately avoids the use of this
kind of paradox. Like other Renaissance and Reformed commentators, preachers
and courtesy-book writers, Speght places a strong emphasis on marriage
as involving the "mutuall participation of each others burden."
And this emphasis is sustained rhetorically throughout the tract. For
example, while accepting the conventional view that woman is "the
weaker vessel," Speght supplies a
reference to man as "the stronger vessel."(16) In deploying
a linguistic stress on balance and mutuality to neutralize hierarchical
oppositions, this young, early seventeenth-century Prostestant may very
well be the most important unsung foremother of modern liberal feminist
commentators on Genesis and on Paradise Lost.
Speght does not offer any programmatic statements on the relation of
"P" to "J," nor does she attempt systematically
to assimilate one to the other. But like all feminist participants in
the "Querelle des Femmes," she assumes that Genesis I: 26
and 27 provide a clear statement of the spiritual equality of the sexes.
The passage in which she briefly explicates Genesis I: 27 is distinctive,
however, in its provisional but decidedly revisionary reconciliation
of the two creation accounts: "in the Image of God were they both
created; yea and to be brief, all the parts of their bodies, both extern
all and internall, were correspondent and meete each for other.,,(17)
By referring to both woman and man, and in relation to one another,
the terms "correspondent and meete" ("correspondent"
being, as modern commentators point out, a good translation of the Hebrew
keneged) deftly unite the "male and female created he them"
of the "P" account with the account in "J" of Eve's
creation for Adam, which here, momentarily loses its narrative identity.
Speght's brief exegesis carefully pt4eserves an emphasis on bodily fitness,
while pointedly ignoring questions of chronology that might threaten
the egalitarian statement.
At one point Speght refers to marriage as "a merri-age, and this
worlds Paradise, where there is mutualllove."(18) The same celebratory
word-play ("the very name whereof should portend unto thee merry-age")
appears in a work published just two years before Swetnam's provocative
tract, Alexander Niccholes' A Discourse" of Marriage and Wiving.
Interesting for, among other things, its, citation of lines from the
Player Queen's speech in Hamlet, Niccholes' Discourse eulogizes the
special pleasures of marital friendship in one of the very phrases used
in Tetrachordon: the wife is "such a friend, which is to us a second
selfe." (19) Niccholes' brief commentary on the two creation accounts
differs significantly from Milton's, however. Appearing in the first
chapter, "Of the First Institution and Author of Marriage,"
Niccholes' exegetical remarks follow the citation of Genesis 2: I 8
("It is not good for the man to bee alone"):
so the creation of the woman was to be a helper to the man, not a hinderer,
a companion for his comfort, not. a vexation to his sorrow, for consortium
est solatium, Company is comfortable though never so small, and Adam
tooke no little joy in this his single companion, being thereby freed
from that solitude and silence which his lonenesse would else have bene
subject unto, had there beene no other end nor use in her more, then
this her bare presence and society alone: But besides all this, the
earth is large and must be peopled, and therefore they are now the Crowne
Workemanship, the last and best and perfectest peece of his handiworke
divided into Genders, as the rest of His creatures are, Male and Female,
fit and enabled Procreare sibi similem to bring forth their like, to
accomplish his will, who thus blessed their fruitfulnesse in the Bud:
Increase and multiply, and replenish the earth.(20)
In this passage,
as in the divorce tracts, the two different creation accounts, presented
in their "real" order of occurrence, are discussed as if each
revealed a different end or benefit of the first institution. And "J"'s
narrative of the creation of a meet help for Adam, given a strictly
psychological and social interpretation, is given priority over "P"'s.
But Niccholes significantly omits any discussion of the creation of
"man" in God's image. This absence permits the plural "they"
easily to take over, so that it is the (now happily united) first man
and woman alike who are "the last and best and perfectest peece
of his handiworke." Although Niccholes mentions that woman was
made both "for" and "out of" man, he maintains his
emphasis on mutuality by erasing any explicit or evaluative commentary
on her having been made after man, as well.
The commentary I would like to examine next is one produced during the
same period as the divorce tracts, that is, at the very time when egalitarian
issues of all kinds were being hotly contested, and when women in the
sectaries not only laid claim to their spiritual equality with men on
the basis of Genesis 1:27 and other texts, but publicly proclaimed the
extra-textual significance of this equality by preaching and prophesying.(21)
Unlike Speght's and Niccholes', the text I turn to now belongs, officially,
to the commentary genre. Issued in association with the Westminster
Assembly and published in 1645, the annotations on Genesis in Annotations
Upon All the Books of the Old and New Testaments have not, to my knowledge,
ever been studied.(22) Yet they shed an extraordinarily clear, not to
say glaringly bright, light on the distinctive and motivated features
of Milton's exegesis.
An annotation on I: 26 takes up directly the question of the meaning
of the signifier "man" or "Adam." With reference
to the phrase "let them" (in "And let them have dominion
over the fish of the sea," etc.), the annotation states: "The
word man, or the Hebrew, Adam, taken not personally or individually
for one single person, but collectively in this verse, comprehendeth
both male and female of mankind: and so it may well be said, not let
him, but let them have dominion." Here the generic sense of h-a'
adam is made completely to override the gender-specific sense. To this
end, the use of the plural pronoun in the latter section of Genesis
I: 26 is privileged over the singular pronoun, used with reference to
the image ("in the image of God created he him"). This annotation
alone therefore reveals a process of interpretation diametrically opposed
to that at work in Tetrachordon, where, as we have seen, Milton seizes
upon the difference between singular
and plural forms in Genesis I: 26 and 27 to argue that only the genderspecific
Adam is made immediately in the image of God.
What makes comparison of the Annotations with Tetrachordon possible
and of crucial importance is that both accept the Reformed view of the
relationship between the two creation accounts. Adam and Eve are said
to be formed on ,the same, that is, the sixth, day, but their creation$
are presented first in chapter I, where "their creation in the
generall was noted with other creatures," and then again in chapter
2, where "in regard of the excellencie of mankind above them all,
God is pleased to make a more particular relation of the manner of their
making, first of the man, vers. 7. and here [vers. 22] of the woman."
Yet as these 'words suggest, the story assumed by the Annotations is
slightly different from Milton's, which starts unabashedly with a "man"
taken personally or individually. The difference is fine, but extremely
significant. Like Milton and other Protestant commentators, the Annotations
rejects the view that male and female were created simultaneously, together
with the view that both sexes were originally embodied, hermaphrodite-like,
in a single being. "J"'s narrative ordering is respected,
which means that woman was indeed created after man. But this is how
the gloss on verse 27'S "male and female" puts it:
Not at once, or in one person, but severally; that is, though he united
them in participation of his image, he distinguished them into two sexes,
male and female, for the increase of their kinde: their conformitie
in participation of Gods Image is clearely manifest by many particulars,
for in most of the respects fore-mentioned, Annotation in ver. 26, the
image of God is equally communicated to them both, and Eve was so like
to Adam (except the difference of sexe which is no part of the divine
image) in the particulars fore-mentioned, that in them, as she was made
after the image of Adam, she was also made after the image of God: as
if one measure be made according to the standard, an hundred made according
to that, agree with the standard as well as it.
By associating differences between the sexes solely with reproduction,
this comment seems to hearken back to a Platonically inflected division
between the spiritual and the physical. The concluding analogy, however,
shows this truly remarkable text grappling with hierarchically ordered
notions of secondariness. Working with reference to the production of
things in the form of commodities, the analogy attempts to take on the
difficulties resulting from the view that man and woman were made "severally."
And it tries to effect, on its own, an egalitarian synthesis of "P"
and "J." That man was first made in the image of God is implicitly
conceded. But that woman was made "after" man becomes a statement
referring not so much to an order of temporality as to an order of materiality.
Woman is made "after" the image of Adam in the sense of being
made "according to the standard" of the image of Adam. The
analogy argues, by ellipsis, that since Adam was
himself really created "after" the image of God, which is
the original "standard," being created i~"after"
Adam's image, Eve is equally created "after" the image of
God. Thanks to this highly ingenious and polemically motivated analogy,
Eve's being created "after" Adam loses its usual sense of
Read in the context of other learned Protestant biblical commentaries,
this analogy has a jarring effect since, in exceeding by ninety-nine
the requirements of logic, it seems to testify to the contemporary phenomenon
of the growth of mercantile capital. For the sake of an egalitarian
synthesis between "P" and "J," this workmanly analogy
tries to undermine not only a hierarchically inflected logic of temporality
but also the generally Platonic logic whereby original is privileged
over copy. It is true that man is still, quite literally, the "measure."
And to give the analogy its force, woman is placed in the position of
being not the first commodity made "after" this measure but
rather the "hundred" that can be produced on its basis. The
logic deployed by the analogy from production insists, however, that
it is not really possible to measure any residual differences between
the image of God, man, and woman. Of the great variety of attempts made
in the Renaissance and seventeenth century to come to Eve's defense,
this must be the least chivalrous in content, the most lacking in conventional
grace or charm. But it definitely does the job. And it certainly establishes,
dramatically, the possibilities open to Milton, which he rejected.
In rejecting a position like that of the Annotations, Milton implicitly
takes what would seem, from another perspective, though, to be a "progressive"
stance, namely that the difference between woman and man is not a simple
matter of biology; that it is not a difference of sex per se. In both
Tetrachordon and Colasterion Milton rejects the view that Adam would
have been given a male not a female partner had companionship been the
end of marriage. The following passage from T etrachordon, which comments
on the all-important "It is not good for man to be alone,"
suggests why Milton would not want to imagine Eve's being created according
to the same "standard" as Adam:
And heer alone
is meant alone without woman, otherwise Adam had the company of God
himself, and Angels to convers with; all creatures to delight him seriously,
or to make him sport. God could have created him out of the same mould
a thousand friends and brother Adams to have bin his consorts, yet for
all this till Eve was giv'n him, God reckn' d him to be alone. (T 595)
By specifying a desire that only "woman" can satisfy, and
by associating that desire with a transcendence of sexual difference
as vulgarly understood, the divorce tracts seem almost to open up a
space for the category of "gender." Yet that this space is
in no sense neutral can be seen in the
language with which
friendship between men gets differentiated from the marital relation.
In Co/asterion Milton opposes "one society of grave freindship"
to "another amiable and attractive society of conjugallove."(23)
Elsewhere Milton can associate the marriage relationship with the need
man has for "sometime slackning the chords of intense thought and
labour" (T596); or he can refer to the seeking of "solace
in that free and lightsome conversation which God & man intends
in mariage" (DDD 273). It should go without saying that man can
have this need for companionship remedied, can intend to enjoy "lightsome
conversation" as opposed to "grave freindship," only
if woman is constituted as less grave, more attractive, more lightsome
and more amiable than her male counterpart; and if both she and marriage
itself are associated with a world apart.
As has already been suggested, the priority bestowed upon Adam in Milton's
divorce tracts is not associated directly with the order of creation.
It tends, instead, to be inscribed in the divine words instituting marriage,
"It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an
help meet for him" (Gen. 2: 18). These words, which Milton frequently
refers to simply as "the institution," are in turn often taken
to gesture towards a prior loneliness or "rationa1 burning"
experienced by the first man, Adam. I have already argued that the priority
Milton priority Milton gives "J" over "P" is inscribed
indelibly in everyone of his major rhetorical and logical moves. In
concluding this discussion of the divorce tracts, I would like to show
how consistently or system.atically this priority is associated with
the deity's instituting words and thus, by implication, with Adam's
It has not yet
been mentioned that Matthew 5: 31, 32 and Matthew 19:3-11., which together
constitute one of the four texts treated in Tetrachordon, and which
appear unequivocally to forbid divorce except for fornication, are susceptible
to Milton's polemical appropriation of them precisely because in chapter
19 Jesus is represented as quoting from Genesis. The relevant verses,
cited by Milton, are the following, verses 3 -6:
The Pharisees also came unto [Jesus], tempting him, and saying unto
him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which
made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For
this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to
his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no
more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together,
let not man put asunder.
The two texts cited here are the now-familiai- "male and female
created he them" in Genesis I: 2 7 and "Therefore shall a
man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife:
and they shall be one flesh" (Gen.
2:24). Milton's strategy in commenting on the verses from Matthew is
to subvert their literal and accepted meaning by referring the citations
back to the divine words of institution, which, he points out, are not,
significantly, quoted. Although the tempting Pharisees, his immediate
interlocutors, aren't worthy of receiving this instruction, Jesus's
intention, Milton argues, is to refer us back to the uncited words of
institution in chapter 2, "which all Divines confesse is a commentary
to what [Jesus] cites out of the first, the making of them Male and
Female" (T 649). The instituting words are thus made to govern
the manner in which those cited by Jesus from chapter I are to be interpreted.
Also cited is Genesis 2: 24, which Milton regards as spoken by Adam.
Yet Milton's exegesis has already determined that Adam's speech too
has meaning only with reference to the words of divine institution.
In the first part of Adam's speech ("This is now bone of my bones,
and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken
out of Man," Gen. 2:23), Milton finds Adam referring to and expounding
his maker's: instituting words, regarded as constituting a promise now
fulfilled (T 602). By establishing a dialogic relation between Adam's
words and those of his maker, Milton can argue that anyone who thinks
Adam is in these words formulating the doctrine of the indissolubility
of marriage "in the meer flesh" is not only sadly mistaken
but guilty of using "the mouth of our generall parent, the first
time it opens, to an arrogant opposition, and correcting of Gods wiser
ordinance" (T 603). It is the next part of Adam's i speech, however,
verse 24, which is commonly thought to be "the great knot tier,"
as Milton correctly points out: "Therefore shall a man leave his
father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall
be one flesh." In Milton's view, by opening with "therefore,"
this verse clearly indicates that Adam confines the implications of
his utterance only to "what; God spake concerning the inward essence
of Mariage in his institution" (T 603). With reference to both
parts of Adam's speech, Milton's position thus is that the deity's words
are the "soul" of Adam's and must be taken into! Adam's utterance
if it is properly to be understood.
This is not, interestingly, the reading given these verses by Calvin,
who; assigns verse 23 to Adam, but draws attention to the interpretative
choices open with regard to 2:24, for which three different speakers
are eligible: Adam, God, and Moses. After a brief discussion Calvin
opts for Moses, suggesting that, having reported what had historically
been done, Moses in this passage sets forth the end of God's ordinance,
which is the permanence or virtual indissolvability of the marriage
bond.(24) For reasons that are: obvious, Milton would want to reject
this reading. By making Adam the speaker of this passage, Milton weakens
its authority as a text enjoining the iindissolubility of marriage.
Since this is the very text cited by Jesus in Matthew, such an assault
on its status as injunction is a decisive defensive move. But it is
also more than that. For by assuming Adam to be its speaker,
Milton also strengthens
the contractual view of the first institution his exegetical practice
implicitly but unmistakably develops.
That Milton's understanding of the first institution is implicitly both
contractual and masculinist can perhaps be seen if his exegetical practice
is compared with that 'of Rachel Speght. Towards the beginning of A
Mouzell for Melastomus, Speght argues that Eve's goodness is proved
by the manner of her creation:
Thus the resplendent love of God toward man appeared, in taking care
to provide him an helper before hee saw his owne want, and in providing
him such an helper as should bee meete for him. Soveraignety had hee
over all creatures, and they were all serviceable unto him; but yet
afore woman was formed, there was not a meete helpe found for Adam.
Mans worthinesse not meriting this great favour at Gods hands, but his
mercie onely moving him thereunto: ...that for mans sake, that hee might
not be an unit, when all other creatures were for procreation duall,
hee created woman to bee a solace unto him, to participate of his sorrowes,
partake of his pleasures, and as a good yokefellow beare part of his
burthen. Of the excellencies of this Structure, I meane of Women, whose
foundation and original of creation, was Gods love, do I intend to dilate.(25)
Were Milton to
have read Speght's tract, I suspect that midway through the first sentence
here he would have discovered himself a resisting reader. The notion
that God acted on Adam's behalf "before hee saw his own want"
would have seemed highly provocative, if not downright offensive. Speght
draws strategically on orthodox Protestantism's doctrinal emphasis on
divine grace as radically transcendent, as an active principle utterly
unconnected with human deserts. In the process, Adam becomes a passive
recipient of a gift, meetness abounding, while Eve is subtly positioned
in relation with her true "original," divine love.
By contrast, in the divorce tracts and, as we shall see, in Paradise
Lost as well, Milton foregrounds an Adam whose innocent or legitimate
desires preexist the creation of the object that will satisfy them.
But this is to put it too abstractly. In Milton's exegesis, the significance
of the gift -woman passed from maker to man is determined by two speeches,
first the maker's and then Adam's, precisely because these speeches
are construed as a verbal exchange that is basically contractual. In
Genesis 2: I 8 Adam's maker promises him that he will assuage his loneliness
and provide him with a meet help; in 2: 23 and 24, Adam accepts this
gift by acknowledging it is exactly what was promised him, and then
promises to honour it on these very grounds. Eve's status as a divinely
bestowed gift is exploited polemically by both Speght and Milton. But
unlike Speght's transcendent lord of love, Milton's veiled but systematic
insistence on the contractual form of the first institution is produced
by a Protestantism pressed into the
service of an historically specific form of individualism, an individualism
paradigmatically masculine, autonomous, articulate, and preternaturally
awake to the implications of entering into relations with others.(26)
One of the questions concerning Paradise Lost that this discussion of
the divorce tracts has, I hope, made it possible to address is: why
does Milton's Eve tell the story of her earliest experiences first,
in Book IV? Why, if Adam was formed first, then Eve, does Adam tell
his story to Raphael last, in Book VIII? An adequate response to this
question would require a full-scale analysis of the ways in which Paradise
Lost articulates a putative sequential order of events or story with
the narrative discourse that distributes this story. As a genre, epic
is of course expected to develop complicated relations between a presumed
chronological and a narrative ordering of events. But Paradise Lost
would seem to use both retrospective and prospective narratives in a
more systematic and motivated manner than does any of its predecessors,
in part because it is so highly conscious of the problematical process
of its consumption. I would like to argue here that Paradise Lost's
narrative distribution of Adam and Eve's first experiences is not just
complexly but ideologically motivated, and that the import of this motivation
can best be grasped by an analysis aware of the historically specific
features of Milton's exegetical practice in the divorce tracts.
This practice is crucially important to Paradise Lost's own use of the
Genesis creation texts. In the case of the passage it most obviously
informs, Raphael's account of the creation of "man" on the
sixth day of creation in Book VII, certain features are intelligible
only in the light of this historically specific context. If commenting
on this passage at all, critics have tended to suggest that Raphael
gives something like a heavenly, as compared with Adam's later more
earthly, account of creation.(27) This doesn't, however, even begin
to do justice to the intricately plotted relations of the "P"
and "J" accounts in the following:
Let us make now Man in our image, Man
In our similitude, and let them rule
Over the Fish and Fowl of Sea and Air,
Beast of the Field, and over all the Earth, .
And every creeping thing that creeps the ground.
This said, he form' d thee, Adam, thee O Man
Dust of the ground, and in thy nostrils breath'd
The breath of Life; in his own Image hee
Created thee, in the Image of God
Express, and thou becam' st a living Soul.
Male he created thee, but thy consort
Female for Race; then bless'd Mankind, and said,
Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth,
Subdue it, and throughout Dominion hold
Over Fish of the Sea, and Fowl of the Air,
And every living thing that moves on the Earth.
Wherever thus created, for no place
Is yet distinct by name, thence, as though know'st
He brought thee into this delicious Grove,
This Garden, planted with the Trees of God,
Delectable both to behold and taste;
And freely all thir pleasant fruit for food
Gave thee, all sorts are here that all th' Earth yields,
Variety without end; but of the Tree
Which tasted works knowledge of Good and Evil,
Thou may'st not; in the day thou eat'st, thou di'st;
Death is the penalty impos'd, beware,
And govern well thy appetite, lest sin
Surprise thee, and her black attendant Death.
Here finish' d hee.
Genesis I: 26-8 is here given in what is virtually its entirety. But
the principal acts of Genesis 2:7-17 are also related: Yahweh's making
of "Man" from the dust of the ground (2:7), his taking of
this man into the garden of Eden (2:15), and his giving of the prohibition
(2:16,17). One could argue that even Milton's "artistry" here
hasn't received its proper due, since this splicing economically makes
from two heterogeneous accounts a single one that is both intellectually
and aesthetically coherent.
Yet it does more, far more, than this. For Raphael's account removes
any trace of ambiguity -the residual generic dust, as it were -from
the Priestly account of the creation of hii' adam or "man"
in the image of God. This it does by a set of speech-acts unambiguously
identifying this "man" with Raphael's interlocutor, Adam.
The direct address in "he form'd thee, Adam, thee 0 Man / Dust
of the ground" has what amounts to a deictic function, joining
the representative "Man" to Raphael's gendered and embodied
listener, who is specifically and repeatedly addressed here, while Eve
(though still an auditor) very pointedly is not. It is clearly significant
that these very lines effect the joining of the Priestly and Yahwistic
accounts. By placing "thee O Man / Dust of the ground" in
apposition to the named "Adam," it is suggested that this
individualized "Adam" actually is ha' adam or representative
man and the punning ha'adama "ground," an identity that only
the joining of the two accounts reveals.
this joining creates is that the two accounts have always already been
one in narrating the creation of Adam. The same cannot be
said of Raphael's account of the creation of Eve, however. For in contrast
(I would like to say something like "in striking contrast,"
yet it has not really been noticed) to the ingenious joining that takes
place for the sake of Adam, Raphael refers to Eve's creation only in
the statement immediately; following, which is again, significantly,
addressed to Adam: "Male he : created thee, but thy consort I Female
for Race" (529-30).28 Outside of this meagre "but thy consort
/ Female for Race," Raphael's account does not otherwise even allude
to the creation of Eve, although, as we have seen, other details of
the narrative in the second chapter are included in it. Indeed, if we
examine the matter more closely, it appears that the Yahwist account
is made use of only up to and including Genesis 2:17 (the giving of
the; prohibition) precisely because Genesis 2: I 8 inaugurates the story
of the creation of a help meet for Adam.
But of course the
story of Eve's creation is not excised from Paradise Lost: altogether,
which is, presumably, why readers have not protested its absence here.
It is told later, by another narrator, Adam. One of the effects of this
narrative distribution is that in Milton's epic Adam's story comes to
have exactly the same relation to Raphael's as in the divorce tracts
and in Protestant commentaries the second chapter of Genesis has to
the first: it is an exposition or commentary upon it, revealing its
true import.(29) Yet the; second telling can have this status only because
it is Adam's. As my discussion indicates, Milton's argument in the divorce
tracts rests on a radical privileging of "J" over "P"
in the specific form of a privileging of the words of divine institution
in Genesis 2:18. Had Milton interpolated the story of Eve's creation
into Raphael's creation account, he would have had to record these words
in the form of indirect speech (as he does the words of prohibition
in lines 542-7) or else to have reproduced both the creator's speech
and Adam's. In either case, the instituting words would have been displaced
from their centres of authority. By transferring the entire narrative
to Adam and by interpolating a dramatic colloquy into this narrative,
Paradise Lost ensures the coincidence of narrator and auditor of the
instituting words, of narrator and of the first man's instituting response.
By I dramatizing this commentary, this necessary supplement to Raphael's
account, in the form of a colloquy narrated by Adam, Paradise Lost makes
sure that the doctrine of marriage is both produced and understood by
the person for whom it is ordained, just as in the divorce tracts it
is the privileged male voice, Milton's, which expounds the true doctrine
As the divorce
tracts never tire of insisting, the true doctrine of marriage relates
only to the satisfaction of that which the wanting soul needfully seeks.
In Paradise Lost this doctrine is co-authored by Adam and the "Presence
Divine," who work it out together. It is also communicated, formally,
by the extraordinary emphasis placed on Adam's subjectivity, on his
actual experience of desire. As Milton has masterminded the exchange,
the divine instituting words come after Adam has been got to express
his longing for a fitting companion (VIII.444-5 I), so that this longing
has the kind of priority that befits the first man. Yet the longing
is also clearly a rational burning. With its strong filiations to the
disputation, the very form of the colloquy establishes that this desire
is rational, and that merely reproductive ends are certainly not what
Adam has in mind. Although procreation is referred to, it is presented
as a kind of necessary consequence of the conjunction of male and female,
but for that very reason as a subordinate end. Adam's language cleverly
associates it with a prior lack, a prior and psychological defect inherent
in his being the first and only man (VIII. 4 I 5-25). The way Milton's
Adam responds to the deity's formal presentation to him of his bride,
Eve, is just as motivated. The Genesis 2:23-4 speech is cited, but only
after it has been introduced in a way that joins it explicitly to the
causes implicit in the deity's instituting words:
This turn hath made amends; thou hast fulfill'd
Thy words, Creator bounteous and benign,
Giver of all things fair, but fairest this
Of all thy gifts, nor enviest. I now see
Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh, my Self
Before me; Woman is her Name, of Man
Extracted; for this cause he shall forgo
Father and Mother, and to his Wife adhere;
And they shall be one Flesh, one Heart, one Soul.
(VIII. 49 1-9)
This speech is presented as a species of spontaneous lyrical utterance
("I overjoy'd could not forbear aloud" (490)) and according
to Adam is "heard" by Eve. Yet it is obviously addressed not
to her but to her maker, who is thanked for the gift itself, but not
until he has been praised for having kept his word. Before letting Adam
commit himself to the project of becoming one flesh with Eve, Milton
has to make it clear that Adam does so believing that the "Heav'nly
Maker" has done what he has promised, that is, created a truly
Not only the placement
of Adam's narrative after Raphael's but also its most salient formal
features can thus be seen to be motivated ideologically, and to illustrate
the causes joining the divorce tracts and Paradise Lost. Before turning
to Eve, I would like to summarize the discussion so far by emphasizing
that these causes are joined, and to man's advantage, both when "P"
and "J" are united and when they aren't. By joining "P"
and "J" as it does, Raphael's account specifies the gendered
Adam of Paradise Lost as the "man" who is made in the divine
image. By disjoining them, Raphael's account lets Adam himself tell
the story of the creature made to satisfy his desire for an other self.
We can now, more directly, take up the question, why does heaven's last
best gift tell her story first? One way of approach might be to suggest
that had Eve's narrative of her earliest experiences appeared where
"naturally," in the order of creation, it should have, that
is after Adam's, Paradise Lost might have risked allowing her to appear
as the necessary and hence in a certain sense superior creature suggested
by what Jacques Derrida has called the logic of the supplement, undeniably
set in motion by Adam's self confessed "single imperfection."
Paradise Lost's narrative discourse would seem to want to subvert this
logic by presenting Eve's narrative first. And it seems to want to subvert
it further by placing immediately after Adam's narrative a confession
in which Eve's completeness and superiority is made to seem an illusion
to which Adam is, unaccountably, susceptible. In this part of Adam's
dialogue with Raphael, the language of supplementarity as artificial
exteriority seems curiously insistent: Eve has been given "Too
much of Ornament" (VIII.538); she is "Made so adorn for thy
delight the more" (VIII.S76) and so on.
Yet a displaced form of the logic of supplementarity may nevertheless
be at work in the place of priority given Eve's narrative. For if Eve
is created to satisfy the psychological needs of a lonely Adam, then
it is necessary that Paradise Lost's readers experience her from the
first as expressing an intimately subjective sense of self. From the
start she must be associated in a distinctive manner with the very interiority
that Adam's need for an other self articulates. Or to put this another
way, Eve's subjectivity must be made available to the reader so that
it can ground, as it were, the lonely Adam's articulated desire for
another self. Appearing as it does in Book IV, Eve's narrative lacks
any immediately discernible connection with the Genesis creation accounts
on which the narratives of both Raphael and Adam draw. Its distance
from Scripture as publicly acknowledged authority is matched by Eve
the narrator's use of markedly lyrical, as opposed to disputational,
forms. Set in juxtaposition to the rather barrenly disputational speech
of Adam's which immediately precedes it in Book IV, Eve's narrative
creates a space that is strongly if only implicitly gendered, a space
that is dilatory, erotic, and significantly, almost quintessentially,
In a recent essay, Christine Froula reads Eve's first speech thematically
and semi-allegorically, as telling the story of Eve's (or woman's) submission
of her own personal experience and autonomy to the voices (the deity's,
then Adam's) of patriarchal authority. As the very title of her essay--
"When Eve Reads Milton" --indicates, Froula wants to find
in Milton's Eve if not a proto-feminist then a potential ally in contemporary
academic feminism's struggle to interrogate the academic canon together
with the cultural and political authority it represents. Milton's Eve
can play the part of such an ally, however, only because for Froula
the privacy of Eve's earliest experiences and the autonomy she thereby
initially seems to possess are equivalent to a potentially empowering
freedom from patriarchal rule.3O Given the liberal assumptions of the
feminism it espouses, Froula's
argument obviously does not want to submit the category of personal
experience to ideological analysis.
In attempting to
give it such an analysis, I would like to suggest that Eve's speech
plays a pivotal role, historically and culturally, in the construction
of the kind of female subjectivity required by a new ec9llomy's progressive
sentimentalization of the private sphere.3! It is possible to suggest
this in part because the subjective experiences Eve relates are represented
as having taken place before any knowledge of or commitment to Adam.
That is, they are represented as taking place in a sphere that has ,the
defining features of the "private" in an emerging capitalist
economy: a sphere that appears to be autonomous and self-sustaining
even though not "productive" and in so appearing is the very
home of the subject. In Book VIII Adam recalls having virtually thought
his creator into existence and having come up with the idea of Eve in
a dialogue with his fellow patriarch. By contrast, Eve recalls inhabiting
a space she believed to be uninhabited, autonomous, hers -but for the
"Shape within the wat'ry gleam." It is, however, precisely
because this belief is evidently false that it is possible to see this
space as analogous to the "private" sphere, which is of course
constituted by and interconnected with the "public" world
outside it. Illusory as this autonomy is, inhabiting a world appearing
to be her own would nevertheless seem to be the condition of the subjectivity
Eve here reveals.
It has long been
a commonplace of commentaries on Paradise Lost that a network of contrasts
is articulated between Eve's narration of her earliest experiences and
Adam's, the contrasts all illustrating the hierarchically ordered nature
of their differences. Yet it has not been recognized clearly enough
that while shadowing forth these bi-polar oppositions, Eve's narrative
is supposed to rationalize the mutuality or intersubjective basis of
their love. For by means of the Narcissus myth, Paradise Lost is able
to represent her experiencing a desire equivalent of complementary to
the lonely Adam's desire for an "other self." It is not hard
to see that Adam's own desire for an other self has a strong "narcissistic"
component. Yet Adam's retrospective narrative shows this narcissism
being sparked, sanctioned and then satisfied by his creator. By contrast,
though in Book IV Eve recalls experiencing a desire for an other self,
this desire is clearly and unambiguously constituted by illusion, both
in the sense of specular illusion and in the sense of error. Neo-Platonic
readings of the Narcissus myth find in it a reflection of the "fall"
of spirit into matter. Milton transforms this tragic tale into one with
a comic resolution by instructing Eve in the superiority of spirit or,
more exactly, in the superiority of "manly grace and wisdom"
over her "beauty." But because this happily ending little
Bildungsroman also involves a movement from illusion to reality, Eve
is made to come to prefer not only "manly grace and wisdom"
as attributes of Adam but also, and much more importantly, Adam as embodiment
reality principle itself: he whose image she really is, as opposed to
the specular image in which her desire originated.
To become available for the mutuality the doctrine of wedded love requires,
Eve's desire therefore must in effect lose its identity, while yet somehow
offering itself up for correction and reorientation. As has often: been
noted, Eve's fate diverges from that of Narcissus at the moment when!
the divine voice intervenes to call her away from her delightful play
with her' reflection in the "waters." We have seen that in
Book VIII Adam's desire for! an other self is sanctioned by the divine
presence's rendering of "It is not! good that the man should be
alone; I will make him an help meet for him." When the divine voice
speaks to Eve, it is to ask that she redirect the desire she too experiences
for an other self:
What thou seest,
What there thou seest fair Creature is thyself,
With thee it came and goes: but follow me,
And I will bring thee where no shadow stays
Thy coming, and thy soft imbraces, hee
Whose image thou art, him thou shalt enjoy
Unlike the instituting
words spoken to Adam in Book VIII, these have no basis in the Yahwist
creation account. Yet they are clearly invented to accompany the only
part of that account which Milton has to work with here, the brief "and
brought her unto the man" (Gen. 2:22), which in Genesis immediately
precedes Adam's words of recognition. Marked inescapably by literary
invention and uttered by a presence that is invisible to Eve, the voice's
words have a curiously secondary or derivative status, at least compared
with those spoken to Adam. They seem indeed, fittingly, to be a kind
of echo of the divine voice.
In so far as it
effects a separation of Eve from her physical image, this word in a
way echoes what Milton calls the creator's originary "divorcing
command" by which "the world first rose out of Chaos"
(DDD 273). But the separation of Eve from her image is not the only
divorce effected here. Before this intervention the "Smooth Lake"
into which Eve peers seems to her "another Sky," as if the
waters on the face of the earth and the heavens were for her indistinguishable
or continuous. The divine voice could therefore much more precisely
be said to recapitulate or echo the paternal Word's original division
of the waters from the waters in Genesis 1:6-7. Before describing her
watery mirror and her other self, Eve mentions "a murmuring sound
/ Of waters issu' d from a Cave" -murmurs, waters and cave all
being associated symbolically with maternality, as critics have pointed
out. When the paternal Word intervenes, Eve's specular auto
eroticism seems to become, paradoxically, even more her own, in part
because it no longer simply reflects that of Ovid's Narcissus. And when
Eve responds to the verbal intervention by rejecting not only his advice
but also Adam, "hee / Whose image" she is, preferring the
"smooth wat'ry image," an analogical relationship gets established
between female auto-eroticism and the mother-daughter dyad. But --and
the difference is of crucial importance --this implicit and mere analogy
is based on specular reflection and error alone. Grounded in illusion,
Eve's desire for an other self is therefore throughout appropriated
by a patriarchal order, with the result that in Paradise Lost's recasting
of Ovid's tale of Narcissus, Eve's illusion is not only permitted but
destined to pass away. In its very choice of subject, Milton's epic
seems to testify to the progressive privatization and sentimentalization
of the domestic sphere. That this privatization and sentimentalization
make possible the construction of a novel female subjectivity is nowhere
clearer than in Eve's first speech, in which the divine voice echoes
the words originally dividing the waters from the waters, words which
in their derived context separate Eve from the self which is only falsely,
illusorily either mother or other.
This takes us to
the very last feature of Eve's story-telling to be considered here.
As has been suggested, Protestant exegetes consider Adam's declaration
in Genesis 2: 24, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my
flesh," to be part of the first wedding ceremony. A version of
this ceremonial utterance appears in Adam's narrative and (highly abridged)
in Eve's. In Genesis, this declaration follows "and brought her
unto the man," a verse which is translated into action in both
of Paradise Lost's accounts. Calvin, when commenting on this phrase,
views the action from Adam's point of view, as involving the exchange
of a gift: "For seeing Adam tooke not a wife to him selfe at his
owne will: but tooke her whome the Lord offered and appointed unto him:
hereof the holinesse of matrimonie doeth the better appeare, because
we know that God is the author thereof."(32) Yet Milton is not
alone in seeing this moment from Eve's point of view 'as well as from
Adam's, for Diodati, commenting on"And brought her unto him,"
says: "As a mediator, to cause her voluntarily to espouse her self
to Adam and to confirm and sanctify that conjunction."(33) In Paradise
Lost, the story Eve tells stresses with remarkable persistence both
the difficulty and the importance of Eve's "voluntarily" espousing
herself to Adam. Many years ago Cleanth Brooks mentioned that Eve's
speech in Book IV seemed to anticipate Freud's observations on the comparative
difficulty the female has in the transition to adult heterosexuality.(34)
But if it does so, it is in a context that constitutes female desire
so as to situate the process of transition within competing representational
media, within what is almost a kind of hall of voices and mirrors.
This entire discussion of the relation between Paradise Lost's retrospective
creation narratives and the divorce tracts can therefore be put in the
following, summary terms. If in Book VIII's recollected colloquy Adam
is revealed articulating the doctrine of marriage, in Book IV's recollected
self-mirroring Eve is portrayed enacting its discipline. Or to formulate
this somewhat differently, by associating Eve with the vicissitudes
of courtship and marriage, and by emphasizing her voluntary submission
both to the paternal voice and to her "author" and bridegroom,
Adam, Paradise Lost can first present the practice for which Adam then,
at the epic's leisure, supplies the theory. In doing so, Paradise Lost
manages to establish a paradigm for the heroines of the genre Milton's
epic is said to usher in. In the Yahwist's creation account, Adam may
have been formed first, then Eve. But Milton's Eve tells her story first
because the domestic sphere with which her subjectivity associates itself
will soon be in need of novels whose heroines are represented learning,
in struggles whose conclusions are almost always implicit in the way
they begin, the value of submitting desire to the paternal law.
Of course the female
authors and readers associated with the rise of the novel are not always
willing to submit to 'this discipline. And in what is perhaps the most
strongly argued critique of the institution of marriage to be written
by a feminist before this century, "Milton" is prominently
associated with the very ideological contradictions that get exposed.
In Reflections upon Marriage, Mary Astell submits the notion of "subjection"
to an analysis that is devastatingly sharp and in certain ways deconstructive,
since she wants to undo the notion that subjection is synonymous with
"natural" inferiority. Arguing, even if with heavy irony,
by means of the very rationalist and individualist principles that came
to prevail during the Civil War period, Astell urges women who are considering
marriage to become fully conscious of the liberties they will have to
surrender if they are to enter into this state of institutionalized
domestic subjection. Her wry reference to Milton is fairly well-known:
"For whatever may be said against Passive-Obedience in another
case, I suppose there's no Man but likes it very well in this; how much
soever Arbitrary Power may be dislik'd on a Throne, not Milton himself
wou' d cry up Liberty to poor Female Slaves, or plead for the Lawfulness
of Resisting a Private Tyranny."(35)
As I have suggested,
the appearance, at least, of Active-Obedience is far more important
to Paradise Lost and to Milton's rationalism than this remark would
suggest. Might an awareness of this be registered in Astell's reflections
on Genesis in the supplementary "Preface"? Like other feminists
writing from within the Christian tradition, Astell finds I Timothy
2:11-14, with its unambiguous assertion of the Genesis Adam's priority
over Eve, exceedingly troublesome: she offers a rather laboured allegorical
interpretation, and then adds the caveat that if the "Learned"
don't accept it, it will be because "Learning is what Men have
engros'd to themselves."(36) Though less defensive, her remarks
on Genesis itself are no less acerbic. After mentioning, approvingly
though tentatively, the opinion that "in the
riginal State of things the Woman was the Superior," Astell proceeds
to 1 is brilliantly savage rebuttal of the notion of woman's "inferior"
However this be, 'tis certainly no Arrogance in a Woman to conclude,
; that she was made for the Service of GOD, and that this is her Ende.
Because GOD made all things for Himself, and a Rational Mind is too
noble a Being to be Made for the Sake and Service of any Creature.
The Service she at any time becomes oblig'd to pay to a Man, is only
a Businesss by the Bye. Just as it may be any Man's Business and Duty
to keep Hogs; he was not made for this, but if he hire himself out
to such an Employment, he ought conscientiously to perform it.(37)
Like other feminist commentators, from participants in the "Querelle
des femmes" to Phyllis Trible and Mieke Bal, Astell here implicitly
privileges "P" over "J." In overturning the view
that woman was created "for" man, Astell, however, applies
to the domestic sphere the historically determinate notion of contractual
relations that Milton helps to articulate in his divorce tracts, political
treatises and in Paradise Lost. With dazzling, Circe-like powers, Astell's
analogy works to disabuse bourgeois "Man" of his illusions
of grandeur. But in exploiting, however archly, a contractual notion
of "Service," it also illustrates some of the hazards involved
in the project --ongoing --of trying to call a spade a spade.
1. For this, see
Barbara K. Lewalski, "Milton and women --yet once more" (Milton
Studies, 6, 1974, 8). Other defenses have been written by Virginia
R. ; Mollenkott, "Milton and women's liberation: a note on teaching
method" ; (Milton Quarterly, 7, I973, 99-102); Joan M. Webber,
"The politics of poetry: ' feminism and Paradise Lost" (Milton
Studies, I4, 1980, 3-24) and Diane K. McColley, Milton's Eve
(Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1983). Generally speaking, an
apologetic tendency is a feature of much North American academic literature
2. Quotations from Milton's poetry are from John Milton: Complete
Poems and: Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York, Odyssey,
3. Biblical quotations are from the King James version.
4. Phyllis Trible,
God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1978),
100-1. The discussion III c s I and 4 of this work revises and extends
the influential "De at:r.:iar biblical interpretation" ( our
the American Academy of Religion 16 I o~_. For further discussion of
some of the exegetical issues touched upon here, see an earlier version
of this; essay, "Genesis, genesis, exegesis, and the formation
of Milton's Eve," in Cannibals, Witches and Divorce: Estranging
the Renaissance, ed. Marjorie: Garber (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins
Press, 1987), 147-208. The present essay is part of a full-length study
on Genesis, gender, discourse and Milton to be published by Cornell
University Press and by Methuen. '
5. Mieke Bal, "Sexuality, sin, and sorrow: the emergence of the
female character (a reading of Genesis 1-3)" (Poetics Today,
6, 1985, 21-42).
6. Tetrachordon, ed. Arnold Williams, in vol. II of The Complete
Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Ernest Sirluck (New Haven, Yale
University Press, 1959), 594. Subsequent references to this edition
of Tetrachordon will appear parenthetically, introduced by "T."
See David Paraeus, In Genesin Mosis Commentarius. (Frankfurt, 1609),
7. John Calvin, A Commentarie of John Calvine, upon the first booke
of Moses called Genesis, tr. Thomas Tymme (London, 1578), 47.
8. Margo Todd argues persuasively for the importance of relating Protestant
to humanist views in "Humanists, Puritans and the spiritualized
household"i (Church History, 49, 1980, 18-34). For a discussion
of the distinctively Puritan development of this ideology see William
and Malleville Haller, "The Puritan art of love" (Huntingdon
Library Quarterly, 5, 1942, 235-72); William Haller, "Hail
Wedded Love" (English Literary History, 13, 1946, 79-97);
see also John Halkett, Milton and the Idea of Matrimony: A Study
of the Divorce Tracts and "Paradise Lost" (New Haven,
Yale University Press, 1970), and James T. Johnson, A Society Ordained
by God: English Puritan Marriage Doctrine in the First Half of the Seventeenth
Century (Nashville, Abingdon, 1970). For a negative evaluation of
the impact on women of the development of bourgeois marriage doctrine,
see Linda T. Fitz, "'What says the married woman?: man and feminism
in the Eng ish Renaissance" Mosaic 13, In er ,I~~£J 1;;:22.
For a wide-rangIng, comparatist iscussion of these socio-economic and
ideological changes as they affect the relations of the sexes, see;
the introduction to Rewriting the Renaissance, ed. Margaret W.
Ferguson, ; Maureen Quilligan and Nancy Vickers (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, ; 1986), xv-xxxi.
9. Calvin, op. cit., 74. Latin cited from Mosis Libri V-, cum johannis
Calvini Commentariis (Geneva, I 563), 19.
10. The political, legal and social contexts for Milton's tracts are
discussed by Chilton L. Powell in English Domestic Relations
1487-I653 (New York, Columbia University Press, 1917), 61-100, and by
Ernest Sirluck (ed.), vol. II of The Complete Prose Works, 137-5~.
Milton's rhetorical strategies are examined by Keith W. Stavely, The
Politics of Milton's Prose Style (New Haven, Yale Universiry Press,
1975), 54-72, and by John M. Perlette, "Milton, Ascham, and ~ the
rhetoric of the divorce controversy" (Milton Studies, 10, 1977,
195-215). A ~ relevant and illuminating study of the "crossing"
of rhetorical, judicial and other discursive codes can be found in Pat
Parker's "Shakespeare and rhetoric: 'dilation' and 'delation,'"
in Othello, Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, . ed. Patricia Parker
and Geoffrey Hartman (London, Methuen, 1985), 54-74.
I I. For a discussion of the title, see the preface by Arnold Williams,
I2. The, Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, ed. Lowell W. Coolidge,
vol. lI..of Complete Prose Works, 24°. Further references
will be introduced by "DDD.;'
13. Calvin, op. cit., 72; Mosis Libri V, 18.
14. Rachel Speght, A Mouzell for Melastomus, the cynicall bayter
of, and faule-mouthed barker against Evahs sex (London, 1617), 6,
14, 16. Joseph Swetnam, The Araignment of lewd, idle, forward, and
unconstant women (London, 1615). For further discussion of this
controversy, see Coryl Crandall, Swetnam ~ the Woman-Hater: The Controversy
and the Play (Lafayette, Purdue University Studies, 1969), and Linda
Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the
Nature of Womankind 1540-1620 (Chicago, University of Illinois Press,
1984). The "Querelle des Femmes" has recently been studied
by Joan Kelley, Women, History and Theory (Chicago, University
of Chicago Press, 1984), 65-109. See also Ian Maclean, The Renaissance
Woman (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980), as well
as the discussion of "feminist polemic" in First Feminists:
British Women Writers, I578-I799, ed. Moira Ferguson (Bloomington, Indiana
University Press, 1985), 27-32.
15. Joan Sharpe, chapter VIII of Ester Hath Hang'd Haman: A Defense
of Women, Against The Author of the Arraignment of Women by Ester
Sowernam, reprinted in First Feminists, 8 I.
16. Speght, op. cit., 4, 5.
17. ibid., I I.
18. ibid., 14. 19. Alexander Niccholes, A Discourse, of Marriage
and Wiving: and of the greatest Mystery therein Contained: How to Choose
a good Wife from a bad. .. (London, 1615), 5.
20. ibid., 2.
21. See the influential discussion by Keith Thomas, "Women and
the Civil War sects" (Past and Present, 13, 1958,42-62).
Phyllis Mack examines some female prophets and the ways in which their
activities were "limited by traditional beliefs about woman's passivity,
her low social position, and her basic.
irrationality," in "Women as prophets during the English Civil
War" (Feminist Studies, 8, I, 1982, 25). For a discussion of more
overtly political interventions, see Patricia Higgins, "The reactions
of women, with special reference to women pt:titioners," in Politics,
Religion and the English Civil War, ed. Brian Stuart Manning (London,
Edward Arnold, 1973), 177-222.
22. Annotations Upon All the Books of the Old and New Testaments. ..By
the joynt-Labour of Certain Divines. ..(London, 1645). For its insistence
on the generic sense of Genesis "Man," the Annotations would
seem to be indebted to the text ordered by the Synod of Dort and published
in 1637, later translated as The Dutch Annotations Upon the Whole Bible.
.., tr. Theodore Haak (London, 1657).
23. Colasterion, ed. Lowell W. Coolidge, vol. 2 of Complete Prose Works
24. Calvin, op. cit., 77-8.
25. Speght, op. cit., 2, 3.
26. Catherine Belsey examines the development and representation of
liberal humanist "Man" in The Subject of Tragedy: Identity
and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London, Methuen, 1985). Francis
Barker suggestively locates in the seventeenth century the emergence
of a distinctively bourgeois subjectivity; see The Tremulous Private
Body: Essays in Subjection (London, Methuen, 1984). Jean Bethke E.lshtain
critiques the rise of liberal ideology in Public Man, Private Woman
(Princeton, Princeton University Pr.ess, 1981), 100-46. For a discussion
of the divorce tracts that sees them expressing an alienated bourgeois
individualism, see David Aers and Bob Hodge in their very important
"'Rational burning:' Milton on sex and marriage" (Milton
Studies, 2, 1979, 3-33).
27. Paradise Lost and the Genesis Tradition (London, Oxford University
Press, 1968), 256.
28. If commented upon at all, the emphasis on procreation here is naturalized
so that it becomes an expression of Raphael's character or situation.
Aers annotates these lines by suggesting that Raphael is revealing a
typically "distorted view of sexuality," John Milton, Paradise
Lost:" Book VII-VIII, ed. David Aers and Mary Ann Radzinowicz,
Cambridge Milton for Schools and Colleges, ed. J. B. Broadbent (Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1974), 99. Halkett (op. cit., iii) points
out that Raphael later (VIII.229-46) reveals that
he was not present the day of Eve's creation. But since both are supposed
to take place on the same "Day," Raphael's absence obviously
cannot explain the different treatment given Adam's creation and Eve's
in his account. I would argue that such character- and situation-related
effects are part and parcel of the ideologically motivated narrative
distributions examined here.
29. In emphasizing the lines of continuity between the divorce tracts
and Paradise Lost, I am questioning the position developed by Aers and
Hodge, who see Paradise Lost gesturing towards "a- more adequate
view of sexuality and the relationship between women and men" (op.
cit., 4). Like other readers, Aers and Hodge stress the importance of
the following speech, suggesting that in it " Adam makes the equation
Milton did not make in his prose works, the crucial equation between
mutuality, equality, and delight" (23):
Can sort, what harmony or true delight?
Which must be
mutual, in proportion due
Giv'n and receiv'd. (VIII, 383-6)
In my view, however,
this produces a mystifying view of "equality," since what
Adam is here rejecting is the society of creatures belonging to a different
species; Eve is "equal" only in the restricted sense of being
a member of the hum~n species. Although I do not here explore the various
tensions and contradictions of Milton's views on gender relations in
Paradise Lost, I make an attempt to do so in "Fallen differences,
phallogocentric discourses: losing Paradise Lost to history," in
Post-Structuralism and the Question of History, ed. Derek Attridge,
Geoff Bennington, and Robert Young (Cambridge, Cambridge University
30. Christine Froula, "When Eve reads Milton: undoing the canonical
economy" (Critical Inquiry, 10, 1983, 321-47). That Derrida's
Supplement can productively expose motivated contradictions in the not
unrelated field of Renaissance rhetorical,theory is demonstrated by
Derek Attridge in "Puttenham's perplexity: nature, art and the
supplement in renaissance poetic theory," in Literary Theory/Renaissance
Texts, ed. Patricia Parker and David Quint (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1986), 257-79.
3 1. For a sharp analysis of the ways in which, among the upper classes,
the development of an affective domestic sphere served to reinforce
masculinist modes of thought, see Susan Moller akin, "Women and
the making of the
sentimental family" (Philosophy and Public Affairs, II, 1981,65-88).
32. Calvin, op. cit., 76-7.
33. Annotation on Genesis 2:22 in John Diodati, Pious and Learned Annotations
upon the Holy Bible, tr. (R.G.), 3rd edn (London, 165 I).
34. Cleanth Brooks, "Eve's awakening," in Essays in Honor
of Walter Clyde Curry (Nashville, Vanderbilt University Press, 1954),
283-5. Brooks says that to the student of Freud, Eve's psychology may
seem "preternaturally" convincing; he also remarks that Eve
is "charmingly feminine withal"!
3 5. Mary Astell, Reflections upon Marriage, The Third Edition, To Which
is Added A Preface, in Answer to some Objections (London, 1706), 27.
Ruth Perry examines this work's political discourse in her recent biography,
The Celebrated Mary Astell: An Early English Feminist (Chicago, University
of Chicago Press,
1986), 157-7°. See also Joan K. Kinnaird, "Mary Astell and
the conservative contribution to English feminism" (Journal of
British Studies, 19, 1979, 53-75); and see the discussion by Hilda Smith,
Reason-'s Disciples: Seventeenth
Century English Feminists (Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1982),
36. Astell, op. cit., Preface, a2, a3.
37. ibid., A2.