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Perversions, Originals, and Redemptions in Paradise Lost: The Typological Scheme and Sign Theory that Unify Milton's Epic.

Thomas Ramey Watson. Perversions, Originals, and Redemptions in Paradise Lost: The Typological Scheme and Sign Theory that Unify Milton's Epic.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 2007. xii + 188 pp. index. bibl. $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-7618-3782-4.

For those readers of Milton who know little about the Augustinian tradition, this study provides a necessary background against which to appreciate the structure and thematic content of Paradise Lost. For those readers already thoroughly familiar with this background, Watson's book attempts to illustrate how readily all aspects of this complex poem gain significance and become unified when read within this tradition. Although this study breaks little new ground in its exploration of this tradition, and indeed occasionally errs on the side of oversimplification when presenting it, it succeeds in demonstrating that many of the individual structural patterns identified in some of the best critical readings of Milton's epic are further illuminated within the context of Augustine's famous articulation of the opposition between two cities: the City of Man and the City of God.

Watson acknowledges that Augustine's views on Christianity soon became mainstream, but justifies, on several grounds, his specific focus on this theologian to the exclusion of all others. He notes that Milton is "linked to Paul and Augustine by a similarly strong sense of divine vocation, the drive to be right, to place sexuality properly within the divine scheme of things, and to sort truth from deception" (2-3). He also cites Augustine's important contribution to typological thinking in the West, arguing that in his works typological patterns "become much more than merely analogical: they reveal God's redemptive purpose." Augustine, "more than anyone except Milton ... developed this fully fleshed out and dichotomous Christian typological system and the sign theory embodied in the signs of God which are everywhere, needing only proper discernment and reading" (28).

Throughout much of his study Watson expands on how Milton "unifies, deepens, and extends his subject matter ... by his thorough and systematic employment of [such] typological patterns" (37) and, in the process, he identifies Milton's "fit readers" as those who have learned how to read God's signs in confronting such patterns. Just as Augustine begins De Civitate Dei with a discussion of the earthly distortions of Satan, so Milton begins with Satan's announcement of his role as the perverter of good, "one of Augustine's favorite ways of describing Satan as well" (49). With its presentation of the building of Pandemonium in book 1, "Milton's sign system invites readers to use the common lenses regarding God and his City as their touchstone" (50). The narrator's (and reader's) journey to Heaven in book 3, which "supplies the correction of the earlier-seen self-asserting, self-exalting, separate, and separating conditions of Hell," confirms that such "signs are properly understood when we look to God and their spiritual core" (58-59).

Another aim of Watson's project is to show how Milton has at times modified, or corrected, the theologian to whom he was so obviously indebted. One such modification is in his treatment of sexuality. Not only does the poet present sexual consummation as taking place before the Fall, he repeatedly associates sexuality with divine inspiration and with God's creation in heaven and earth. Watson also observes that "perhaps because Augustine ... does not hold free will so evident--or so important--as Milton," the theologian "seems to believe Adam and Eve more guilty than Milton before they actually fall." For Milton the "process of falling is emphasized" because God's creatures, as Abdiel's decision-making shows, can turn back (111-12), a view that renders unnecessary Augustine's speculation that, in the case of Adam and Eve, a bad will proceeded bad actions.

Watson's study of Paradise Lost as an Augustinian epic builds on many previous efforts in Milton studies to read the poem in the context of the rich biblical tradition of which it is so obviously a part. For Milton specialists this study's shortcomings will appear not in what Watson includes but in what he excludes. They will find little here on the reception of Augustine's works in medieval and early modern Europe. For example, Martin Luther, a central figure in this reception--and in the typological reading that this study focuses on--is not even mentioned. To the historically minded scholar, the jump from Augustine to Milton, without any acknowledgment of the many different historical appropriations of this pivotal theologian, can at times be quite startling. When reading books 11 and 12 of Milton's epic in the context of Augustine's two cities, it would hardly be inappropriate, and indeed could be quite relevant, to acknowledge the ways in which the concept of the two cities had been variously interpreted so as to make room for the third city, the reformed earthly city that approximated the City of God. To say, as Watson does, that the inwardness of the last two books is due to his following of Augustine is surely not inaccurate, but it might also be helpful to examine more fully where Milton's appropriation of the two cities fits within the range of uses--from ascetic to activist--to which this construct had been employed historically.


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Author:Hamilton, Gary D.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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