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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 6 July 2017

"Milton in America" by Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd is a prolific author of many, many books. Those I have read (links are to reviews in this blog) are:

  • Hawksmoor: stunningly brilliant; spooky; dark
  • The Last testament of Oscar Wilde
  • Chatterton: flitting in between London 1770 and London 1856 this is a thoroughly enjoyable read about reality and forgery, plagiarism and originality, truth and lies
  • The House of Doctor Dee: a timeshifting novel that didn't quite work for me
  • Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
  • The Lambs of London: vary enjoyable with some beautifully subtle dialogue
  • The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein: an interesting conceit but rather heavy going though with a nice twist at the end.
Non fiction:
  • Thames: an immense tome: great as reference but not to read (there are several pages just listing all the St Mary's churches on the banks of the Thames!)
  • Dickens: a superb biography
  • Blake: an immensely thorough yet at the same time readable and indeed enjoyable biography
  • Chaucer
  • Wilkie Collins: a brilliant bijou biography
  • Newton
This is a strange book. The first half ('Eden') is narrated in part by Goosequill, a poor London boy whom Milton hires as secretary and guide (Milton being blind) and in part by letters from Milton to an English acquaintance: there is a certain amount of comic potential derived from the fact that Milton regards Goosequill as a clown and a fool whereas the reader sees Goosequill save Milton's life in a shipwreck and tenderly care for him and put up with his tantrums . M & G go to America and find a puritan village which elects to be lead by the famous John Milton and to call itself New Milton

Halfway through the book, in the 'Fall', Milton wanders off and, in mystical scenes, appears to break his leg, be cared for by the Indian heathen savages he so detests and regain his sight. On his retirn his puritan zeal is intensified. Where he had been intolerant not he is bigoted. The target for his wrath is a bearby village of Papists who get on with the local Indians and preach tolerance, as opposed to the narrow-minded puritans of New Milton. Goosequill does his best to mediate but Milton's fierce hatred of anything that is not his version of the truth whips up the flames of war. This second section of the book is mostly narrated in the third person omniscient point of view.

Peter Ackroyd's prose is brilliant but difficult to capture in quotes. His true genius is in the way his characters interact. The way in which Goosequill tells his story to his new wife, with various asides about babies and making love, and her 'get along with you' rebuttals, is a masterclass.

  • "He was all toughened and weathered, and I suspected that there was a great deal of ale within him somewhere." (p 35)
  • "I tremble to think of the sordid sperm engendered by their lustiness". (p 95)
  • "If he had worked me harder, there could have been a burial service." (p 119)
  • "They do not worship their god because they say that, being god, he will do them no harm." (p 134)
  • "Where there is glory, there must also be terror, where there is reverence, there must be fear." (p 145)
  • "Even Gods have lived in the woods ... does not Dante write that the trees contain the souls of suicides? ... In the dark wood of this world I lost my way." (p 198)
  • "The blind man wandered ahead and, weeping, through the dark wood took his solitary way" (last line; echoes of Dante; and, of course, Paradise being truly lost).

A fascinating story about how intolerance breeds tragedy. I suspect that the way Milton muddles up racism with religious intolerance and the way he confuses heretical religious practices with sodomy is intended to resonate with us today; Ackroyd is using the religious battles of yesteryear as an allegory of our own intolerances and bigotries today.

July 2017;

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