Psychology and myth

  • Margarita Stocker
Part of the The Critics Debate book series


If Milton’s revolutionary attitudes have presented problems, equally the religious theme of Paradise Lost has been off-putting to many non-Christian readers. Assuming that nowadays few readers are theists, critics of the 1950s and 60s in particular favoured the notion that this poem is still generally accessible as a ‘mythic’ formulation of reality — myth possessing a power over our minds which is quite independent of belief. Meditating upon Milton’s presentation of the Fall as a psychological paradox (Adam’s understandable human love for Eve is equally a ‘fond’ or foolish uxoriousness), Bergonzi thought that ‘One does not need to be a believing Christian to feel the force of this’ representation of contradictions frequently experienced in human life [1960, 179]. Kermode goes further: if we confuse Paradise Lost with the Bible we will miss its force as a myth of the ‘primitive’ tragedy of Death. For the same reason we will ignore Milton’s counter-emphasis, in Paradise, upon a life-affirming celebration of sensuality [1960, 102-5]. Here Kermode gives a mythic, ‘Dionysiac’ reading of Milton’s much-noted materialism, which makes his angels eat and digest, and impels his eloquent assertion that — ‘whatever hypocrites’ say [iv 744] — there was sex in the unfallen Paradise.


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© Margarita Stocker 1988

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  • Margarita Stocker

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