Paradise Lost

18th Century women writers and the reclamation of Milton’s Eve College

Since its first publication in 1667, Milton’s Paradise Lost has continued to exert its influence over literature, having particular resonance with the romantics, Wordsworth citing it as among ‘the grand store-houses of enthusiastic and meditative Imagination’. Milton took what Genesis had put forward in a few brief lines and crafted an enthralling, skillful epic, using the creation story to justify the ways of God to men. Using the Bible as inspiration and basis for the poem awarded Milton’s text an authority, and thus his detailed portraits of Adam and Eve became particularly influential in discussions about the nature of men and women generally, having sprung from these two ‘parents’. Milton’s Eve gives credit to the attitude commonplace in his era, that women, though creations of God, are inferior to men: ‘both not equal, as their sex not equal seemed’.[Book IV] It is through Eve’s weakness of pride and vanity that mankind comes to fall in the Bible and the poem. However, for women writers living in the late seventeenth, and through the eighteenth century, political climate opened up a physical and imaginative space in which they had an opportunity to challenge these gender perceptions Milton’s influential work propagates....

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