Milton Now pp 247-264 | Cite as

When Milton Was in Vogue: Cross-Dressing Miltonic Presence and William Craft’s Slave Narrative

  • Reginald A. Wilburn
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


The five lines of Miltonic text quoted here appear as an epigraph to William Craft’s slave narrative, Running A Thousand Miles to Freedom (1860). Despite Craft’s citation of Adam’s claim of God-given liberty in the service of his antislavery text, examinations of this Miltonic epigraph have been neglected in literary criticism. Taking this silence as a queer opportunity to re-member John Milton now, this chapter not only takes account of the content of Craft’s quotation of the epic, but also explores his subversive mode of citation. Craft’s unconventional approach to literary appropriation presents a form of queer intertextuality—one, moreover, that showcases how Milton remains in vogue, especially when liberty is the theme and freedom a right to be won. As the editors of Milton und the Grounds of Contention note, “People of varied life experiences—racial, social, gendered, political, educational—will find in the same literary work numerous varied reactions and readings.”2 In Running, Craft inhabits the varied interpretive terrain of “racial and ethnic sexuality” by placing Milton on sartorial display at the top of his slave narrative.3 Rhetorically imitating and referencing the fugitive drag worn by his wife when the couple escaped from slavery to freedom in the North, his appropriation of Milton frames his narrative as a subversive status symbol of queer intertextuality and high literary fashion.


Slave Owner White Attestor Paradise Lost Drag Performance Fashion Accessory 
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© Catharine Gray and Erin Murphy 2014

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  • Reginald A. Wilburn

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