Survey of English Literature, Online

Lecture 11: Looking One Last Time at the Sympathetic Problem of Uxoriousness, by Understanding, a little more, "The Man Who Lo

Lecture 11: Looking One Last Time at the Sympathetic Problem of Uxoriousness, by Understanding, a little more, "The Man Who Loved Too Much," "The Woman Who Loved too Little," and "The Paradox of the Fortunate Fall"



Administrative Matter (urgent!)

Shalom and Welcome Back.  Let me start by pointing out that I've only received, at this point, some work from some of you.  The situation becomes serious as I need to submit midterm grades.  I will certainly have to have all on-line work up to and including the assignments on John Donne in order to submit a midterm grade of more than "Incomplete."  Please do get the work in.  Much of the material I have received is good and even very good, and this experimental course should be challenging and interesting for all of us.  So don't force me to take a peremptory tone, it's much more enjoyable to talk about the depth and beauty of English literature.



Back to Paradise Lost

We left Eve last time as the Satanic serpent very carefully appealed to her senses, with the delicious apple, which clearly stands in as a metonymy for certain extreme pleasures of sensuality which, the serpent suggests, are forbidden by the representative prohibition on eating from the fruits of certain trees. 

Subsequently he begins to deal with what he describes as God's prohibitions on the freeplay of the intellect and spirit.  (There have always been readers, notably the Romantics, who were sympathetic to Satan's arguments, and as I've indicated before, the pro-Satan readers of Paradise Lost can make a strong and in some ways sympathetic case.  However I do not believe it is the true Miltonic case.)  Satan's basic argument is that Man should know and taste all in order to come to the right conclusions and choose the Good out of Knowledge.   The case sounds persuasive enough, but what Milton is suggesting, and this is a standard Judeo-Christian view, is that Man is not capable of withstanding all the temptations that knowledge brings.  We might say, the Satanic view argues that man can know and integrate all because of his Godlike intelligence, while the Godly view, which Milton adopts and elucidates, says that Man should not try to know and experience too much because of his all-too-human (flawed, weak, easily-deceived) will. 

The Orthodox theology would have it that God gave man free will to make him a God-like creature, but protected him from the flaws in his nature by keeping him in a state of innocence.  It would therefore be the first test of Man's faith, and Adam does much better than Eve here, to preserve himself from the temptations of the will and the flesh by keeping himself in the states of innocence and obedience.   Basically the religious man accepts that there is a higher good that is beyond him to which he must submit, which protects him and raises him up at the same time.  Indeed Eve proves the weakness of her will by being so easily swayed by the serpent, and the limits of her intelligence by forgetting everything she had heard from Adam, who had heard it from the Angels, about the dangers of Satanic deceit. 

Eve shows the strength of both her sensual appetite and her intellectual pride by giving in to the Satanic serpent and performing the most enormous sin — the archetypal sin-of-sins, Original Sin —in history and eating of the dreadful fruit.  Milton captures this in one of his difficult to imagine, challenging metaphors:

   Greedily she ingor'd without restraint,

   And knew not eating Death. . . . (ll. 791-92 — my emphasis).

The extreme difficulty of combining the act of eating with the abstraction "death," the challenge of putting together these two very different orders of mental experience, creates a catachresis, a figure of speech bases on so strong a paradox as to seem forced. 


            From there we move to the lines I asked you to read and write about for your on-line log, ll. 816-833.  In the case of this particular assignment I would not object if you were to read what will be said on this subject in the lecture, and then agreeing or disagreeing and adding something of your own.  Let us cover, together, some of the main consequences of Eve's eating of the apple.


False Face, Shared Fall: Eve Without Love

The first thing Eve thinks about, and this is a certain indication that she is in the world of After-the-Fall, the Post-Lapsarian World, is: what kind of face should I wear when I see Adam again.  This is the entrance into falseness and deceit, the end of the kind of natural, spontaneous innocence where one doesn't consider what face to wear, because there is only one true face, the face of real feeling. Saying to herself:  "But to Adam in what sort / Shall I appear?" (ll. 816-17), Eve demonstrates that the Fall from Innocence entails the acquiring of self-consciousness.  She cannot just be herself naturally, she has to think about what she will be and is in the self-divided, painful position of one who watches herself becoming in a constant state of deciding what-to-be.

            Self-consciousness marks the first sign of her fall, but not the only or even the most significant indication that her entire being has undergone change.  What is of enormous import here, and we can take it as either Milton's tragic insight into the nature of Woman or, more persuasively, as an indication that he was over-influenced by the sexism of the entire Western tradition, is that Eve goes on to prove the superficiality of her love for Adam — if her feeling can be called love at all.  She wonders whether to hide the eating of the apple from him so that she might be "Superior" to him as a result of her greater knowledge.  She soon discards this — also not admirable — possibility, however, because if Adam were not to fall that would mean she was alone in her Fallen state.  She is aware, despite all of Satan's over-sophisticated arguments, his casuistry, that she is mortal / After-the-Fall while he remains immortal / Before-the-Fall

She then decides, and this is her condemnable lack-of-love, that she cannot abide the thought of Adam outliving her in happiness, married to another, content without her.           

                        . . . then I shall be no more,

                        And Adam wedded to Another Eve,

                        Shall live with her enjoying, I extinct;

                        A death to think  (ll. 827-30).

The thought of Adam living without her would cause Eve to die a second death.

So she decides to tell Adam what she has done.  The passage where this occurs includes one of the most perfect moments of poetry that I know.  When Even comes to confess her incredible act of defiance to Adam, he is in the middle of weaving a garland for her as a symbol of his love.  Now the garland or wreath of flowers would be a symbol of unity, and wholeness, and nature, all the things they have together, in a word, the garland is a symbol of Paradise.  She comes to him all breathless and falsely, disingenuously, naïve.  Pretending to want nothing but to remain together (as if out of great love for him, but we know from what she earlier said, talking only to herself, that her great fear is that he will outlive her to love again) she confesses her crime as if oblivious of its unspeakable gravity. 

            At first, Adam says nothing, but Milton's great poetry expresses the depth of Adam's response through the expression of his face and the action (lack-of-action) of his hands:

                                    Astonied [he] stood and Blank, while horror chill

                                    Ran through his veins, and all his joints relax'd;

                                    From his slack hand the Garland wreath'd for Eve

                                    Down dropp'd, and all the faded Roses shed (ll. 890-93).


Note the use of the word "astonied" our "astonished," which shows its original meaning — to become like stone out of amazement.  But I want especially for us to note what happens to the garland.  This rich and delicate symbol comes to represent everything they had together and what God has given them.  Shocked by what Eve tells him, he drops it, and it scatters everywhere and this is nothing less than the sign of the Fall from Paradise, condensed into one perfectly poignant symbol and symbolic action.


The Garland as Microcosmic Image

This is  Milton's particularly successful example of the literary device known in France as a mise-en-âbyme (to "place in the abyss" being the somewhat confusing English translation).  This refers to a detail in a work of art that somehow contains the entire work of art.  This would occur were there a small painting in a room that was actually a painting of the room as a whole, or it could refer to that object between reflecting mirrors which reflected itself outward in larger and larger proliferations until it became a great expansion of itself. 

              Because the French mise-en-âbyme is a rather cumbersome way to put this, and there is no common English way to say this, I'll suggest that we call such a moment a microcosmic image.  Borrowing from the Renaissance ideas of microcosm and macrocosm, familiar to us from the poetry of John Donne, we'll apply this and say that an image that succeeds in capturing the overall theme or meaning of a work of literature is a microcosm of the greater literary macrocosm.  The microcosmic image and action connected to the fall of the garland and the scattering of the roses seems to me unsurpassed as an example of this device in English Literature.


On Loving too Much or, Uxorious Adam

            Adam, and this is a sign that he is both a more serious person and closer to God than Eve is, the one perhaps the consequence of the other,  is absolutely clear, unequivocal, about the tremendous consequences of Eve's action: "How art thou lost, how on a sudden lost,  / Defac't, dflow'r'd, and now to Death devote." (ll. 900-901).  All the more striking, then, at once admirable (because of his too-great love for Eve) and condemnable (because of his not-great-enough love for God), then, that he immediately decides to die with her.  Note that Adam and Eve use the same image, the image of the second Eve, the still unfallen woman that God would doubtless create from another of Adam's ribs.  Eve thinks of her with Adam and resents that Adam might live without her, Adam thinks of her (the second Eve) and laments the loss of the first Eve.  

We need to remember the vast difference between the two of them at this point.  Adam is still saved, while Eve is already Fallen; willing to be together, Adam gives up his superior status, he is willing to Fall from above to below, while she pulls him down from below looking above.  Adam says, if Eve must die, so must I, while Eve says, if I must die, so must he.  She sacrifices him, while he sacrifices himself.  He gives; she takes.  It seems a logical next step to say, he loves her, she loves herself.  This may be going a shade too far, but there's evidence for it.  Why is this so important?  Because to be willing to give up his un-Fallen state, his immortality, for a Fallen mortal, can only be considered an act of selflessness and love, but to demand that one who has not yet fallen, one who can live forever, give up this blessed privilege, can only be understood as an act of selfishness and envy. Hence we have to understand that the Fall has a different meaning for each of the human protagonists.     

Her sin is Pride, she puts herself over God, because of too much sensual appetite and too much intellectual ambition.  She places herself, thus, over both God and Adam, the man who has God-in-himself.

His sin uxoriousness, the sin of loving woman too much, of loving woman more than God, which can also be understood as putting the body over the spirit.  At the same time, preferring her, he certainly shares her pride.


After that we witness their descent into lust, the reduction of love, the union of the spirit-and-the-body, to lust, the union in the body only, a kind of defeat of the loving, Godly spirit. That's when they know Shame (l. 1097) for the first time, because shame arises at the moment that Man is unworthy of himself, when he cringes embarrassed at the thought that he has been less than what he should be, that he has been unworthy of himself.  Shame is in particular bodily shame, the low feeling that the baser instincts have overthrown the higher reason.  They hide parts of their bodies because their bodies have proven stronger than their spirits.  In that sense their current coverings are more shameful than their former complete nakedness.

No less grave, perhaps more awful than what happens to their bodies is what happens to their minds.  For now all the dark passions and emotions, all the internal forces kept in check by placid innocence and serene obedience are now let loose:

               . . . high Passions, Anger, Hate,

   Mistrust, Suspicion, discord . . shook sore

   Thir inward State of Mind, calm Region once

   And full of Peace, now toss't and turbulent (ll. 1123-26).

Now that appetite rules the will and right reason, which bows to God, loses its sovereignty, there is no way to control the mind and subject it to the Higher Good inseparable from God.  Perhaps a modern thinker would argue, in a sense agreeing with Eve and even Satan, that Man does need to challenge himself by knowing himself and knowing dark forces within and without, but this is not the approach of Judeo-Christian Orthodoxy, nor of Milton in Paradise Lost

This powerful and dramatic Book IX end on a most significant note.  Adam and Eve, having loosed the dark winds of discontent, lose the most precious element of their relationship: their mutual trust.  Facing the seriousness of their action, their Fall from God, they also lose the unity that had characterized their relationship.  They begin to blame one another for their misfortunes.    

Adam blames Eve for not obeying him, why did she suddenly develop that "strange / Desire of wand'ring this unhappy morn" (ll. 1135-36).  Eve, not to be outdone, blames Adam for not being stronger: "Hadst thou been firm and fixt in thy dissent, / Neither had I transgress'd, nor thou with mee" (ll. 1161-62). 

            In the end it is this dissension, the division between them expressed by mutual blame and almost complete lack of self-blame (in this too Eve errs more than Adam) that makes them so unhappy at the end, doubly lonely because not only have they lost God but, at the same time, gone a long way toward losing one another.


For your on-line log this week, two assignments:  first, look at ll. 1134-1189, and trace the way Adam and Eve blame one another.  Are their any moments of self-blame at all?  Note them.  What does all this mutual accusing say about their relationship?  Why did it not happen earlier?  What in each of them causes him/her to blame the other for their problems?    


Finally, let's look at Book XII and the happy circumstance that is sometimes described as "The Paradox of the Fortunate Fall."  Look at lines 466-484 especially but it will be necessary for you to read all of Bk. XII as given in The Norton Anthology.  We learn that for the believing Christian (and the believing Jew in another way) Original Sin is not necessarily a terrible punishment, but can be a great blessing.  This is because God has given Man a way to ascend even higher than Paradise.  For your on-line log explain how this works according to the Christian scheme, ie why was it a Fortunate Fall.  If you like — this is voluntary — you may wish to compare the Fortunate Fall from a Jewish point-of-view with the Christian approach.

            Next time we'll begin our studies of the Neo-Classical Era.  Read the introduction to "The Restoration and The Eighteenth Century" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature  and the first two cantos of Pope's "The Rape of the Lock," (pp. 1076-1083).