Miltons Words

Hardcover | October 15, 2009

byAnnabel Patterson

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Milton's Words approaches John Milton in both an old and a new way, focusing on his genius with words: keywords - the keys to a text or a theory; words of sexual avoidance and distress; words of abuse; words of privilege because 'Scripture'; big learned words; and cunning little words, easilyoverlooked. After a short account of Milton's life as a writer, Patterson guides us through most of the poetry and polemical prose, all too often kept in separate compartments. She shows how new challenges and crises required shifts in vocabulary, as well as changes in Milton's views.What do Milton's words look like when we acknowledge their freight of personal and political history; when we track them from text to text; when we consider not only the big, important, learned words but also the very small ones, such as 'perhaps', which Milton deployed with consummate skill at somecrucial moments in both poetry and prose, or the phrase 'he who', which replicates the Latinate 'ille qui', but to which Milton gives a psychological twist; when we consider not only word frequency, but infrequency, uniqueness or near uniqueness, as a signal of Milton's interest in a word; when wetackle these issues in the Latin texts for which there is not, as yet, a concordance; when we consider the possibility that certain words gain or lose value for Milton as he proceeds through his writer's life, and that certain words become keywords to a particular text, as 'book' becomes toAreopagitica; when we reconsider the question of Milton's coinages not from the stern legalistic perspective as to whether he should have made them, but why he needed them? No one person could complete all these tasks, and nobody would wish to read a book that appeared to have completed them.Understanding Milton's words is, and should remain, a work in progress.But close attention to Milton's words is not all that this book offers. It tells a slightly different story about Milton himself than the ones we have been used to. Starting with an abbreviated 'writer's life', it explains the shape of Milton's writing career, the life-long tension between hisliterary ambitions and the pressure of exhilarating political circumstances. The Milton you will find here walked no straight path from his Cambridge degree to the epic he had been talking of writing when he was still at university, but instead cut his teeth as a writer in an entirely differentfield, political controversy. The effect on his vocabulary of his campaign to reform his country's church government and its divorce laws was galvanic, not least because he had to reconstitute his own image from that of a shy and bookish person to that of a crusader. He discovered that he enjoyednot only verbal conflict, but also mudslinging, and rude words became part of his arsenal in his very first prose tract. 'Marriage' and 'divorce', on the other hand, became loaded words for Milton for personal reasons, and he developed a new set of verbal resources, which Patterson calls 'words ofavoidance', to help him tackle the subject. He never got over the experience of writing the divorce tracts. It was still on his mind when at the end of his life he revised his Latin treatise on theology, De Doctrina Christiana.Then, for about a decade, he was called upon to justify the Long Parliament's execution of Charles I, which forced him to come to terms with the political keywords of his generation, words such as 'king', 'liberty', 'tyranny', and 'the people'. When the republican experiment collapsed on the deathof Oliver Cromwell, after one last brave salvo against the restoration of the monarchy Milton retired back into the role of private intellectual and poet. This we all know; but because the poetry and the prose have been segregated for so long, and still tend to be read as separate enterprises, wehave not tended to track Milton's favorite political words into the great poems, where, as we perhaps unwillingly will see, they change their valence. In general, though it is impossible to do justice to all of Milton's feats of word use and arrangement, this book will tell a complete tale ofMilton the man; his psychological trajectory as well as that more formal notion, his 'character'; his mistakes as well as his masterpieces.

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Milton's Words approaches John Milton in both an old and a new way, focusing on his genius with words: keywords - the keys to a text or a theory; words of sexual avoidance and distress; words of abuse; words of privilege because 'Scripture'; big learned words; and cunning little words, easilyoverlooked. After a short account of Milton...

Annabel Patterson is Sterling Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University. She was born in England and emigrated to Canada in 1957, and later to the United States. She has written extensively and diversely on the literature, history, and culture of early modern Europe. Milton's Words is her fourteenth book, the previous one bein...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:224 pages, 7.72 × 5.08 × 0.1 inPublished:October 15, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199573468

ISBN - 13:9780199573462

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Milton's Words1. A Writing Life2. Words of Avoidance: the Divorce Pamphlets3. Keywords: Areopagitica; Readie and Easie Way; Of True Religion; Words Apart4. Paradise Lost and the D-Word5. It is Written: Paradise Regained6. Rude Words7. Negativity8. PerhapsPertinent Reading