Mary and Mary on Milton: Maternal Bonding via Discourse

From Shared Experience’s Mary Shelley:[1]

She goes to stand before the portrait, and stares up at it.

Godwin glances up.

Godwin You have grown more like her.

Mary Have I?

Godwin A little in your looks. A great deal in your stridency of expression.

You went away a girl, and have returned a young woman.

Mary I still look like you though, don’t I? Everyone says so.

Godwin Oh, yes. You will never be rid of that nose. The Gods are not entirely benign.

He continues with his work.

Mary Is it a good likeness?

Godwin Very.

Mary How old was she then?

Godwin About thirty. She was pregnant with Fanny.

Mary She looks happy.

Godwin finishes his work and sets his pen down.

Mary Are there more books about my mother which I can read? Or can I read the other books she wrote?

Godwin Hum. I can’t remember what you’ve read already.

He goes to the bookshelves.


In the National Portrait Gallery in London, a room is devoted to the figures of the Romantic Movement. On one wall, a later portrait of Mary Shelley[2] is on the left hand side of the elaborate oil painting of George Gordon, Lord Byron[3] on whose opposite side rests a simple portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary’s portrait gazes directly across the room, to the opposing wall. On the opposing wall hang the soft portrait of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and a harsh portrait of her father, his gaze seemingly directed away from his daughter. It’s a masterpiece of curation, simple placement conveying the tumultuous tale of a family and a movement. One cannot escape the obvious paradoxes drawn, especially those drawn by Mary Shelley’s direct gaze upon her distant mother, unreachable and strikingly younger than her daughter’s portrait.[4]

Mary Wollstonecraft never knew her greatest pupil: Wollstonecraft died shortly after giving birth to her. A young Mary Shelley, who intensely studied the writings of both her parents, must have keenly felt the absence of Wollstonecraft. In the publication of Frankenstein, Shelley’s writing is profoundly bound up in her mother’s discourse—and in a clear relationship to John Milton’s Paradise Lost.[5] These two influences are inextricable from each other. Rather, it is the combination of interactions that created a masterwork the likes of which Mary Shelley could never replicate in her lifetime. Mary and Mary come together across the years to converse about Milton, an iconoclast whom both felt compelled to envelop in their work and lives. In discourse on Milton, Mary Shelley gained an audience with her mother by joining the voices of women readers across the centuries. A distinction emerges when one compares the allusions made by Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. Wollstonecraft’s allusions tend to stay within the garden, while Shelley’s allusions in Frankenstein are constantly in the fires of Hell. The effect of this contrast is the capability to see how Shelley was casting her eye toward what her mother’s criticism would have become. Wollstonecraft was challenging the authority of Adam over Eve; Shelley was challenging the ultimate patriarch, God, over His authority over all Creation. In this model, Victor Frankenstein is God, while his Creature represents Adam, Eve, and Satan at various points of the narrative. Thus, the point of this study is to trace the sutures connecting mother and daughter, utilizing Miltonic discourse in order to show a conversation and a continuation stretching over the years.

In order to understand why the dichotomy between mother and daughter is relevant in the discussion of both of their works and treatments of Paradise Lost, one must understand the relationship between the two.[6] Certain events in the life of Mary Shelley, née Godwin, have become mythologized in the reading and teaching of Frankenstein. The estrangement from her father, a strange summer of creativity on the lake in Geneva, the miscarriages and tragic deaths of her children… Mary Shelley offers opportunities for biographical criticism, and these opportunities have been seized: her life is as well read as her texts.[7] One moment, among all of the moments of young Mary’s life, is the precursor and possible catalyst toward all of these events. As Mary Shelley was torn forcibly and gruesomely from her mother’s womb, her birth was a morosely ironic moment: one of the key[8] feminist theorists struck down by an ultimate act of femininity. Considering Shelley’s later difficulties with this act of femininity, the event must have hung in her subconscious for years. In turn, Mary Wollstonecraft became an absence in the lives of her daughters, and an untouchable figure in the Godwin household.[9]

The weight of the inheritance from Wollstonecraft is oft discussed, and is even the topic of Shared Experience’s biographical play, Mary Shelley. The play actually begins with Mary Shelley reading of her mother’s suicide attempt, and several scenes deal with how the ghost of Mary Wollstonecraft is a spectre the younger Mary’s life. The play traces the creation of Shelley’s novel, deftly weaving the influences that bore Frankenstein into the world. The texts that most occupy the play are not Frankenstein though, but rather the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s thoughts on Paradise Lost can be found repeatedly throughout her work. Milton’s shadow falls repeatedly on Vindication of the Rights of Woman. He serves as a defining patriarch, both igniting her indignation and enriching her prose of her prose. Wollstonecraft was a close reader of Paradise Lost, and she not only critiques his work, but utilizes his language to illuminate her own. In Vindication, Eden becomes the land of discourse and subversion at once. Wollstonecraft wrestles with Milton’s text, especially in “Chapter II: The Prevailing Notion of a Sexual Character Discussed.” Wollstonecraft takes Milton to task for his description of Eve:

Thus Milton describes our first frail mother; though when he tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning, unless, in the true Mahometan[10] strain, he meant to deprive us of souls, and insinuate that we were beings only designed by sweet attractive grace, and docile blind obedience[11], to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar on the wing of contemplation.

Wollstonecraft’s writing is filled with ire, and it is little wonder that she preferred the Hell scenes, as the mere description of Eve and its implications in the context of a patriarchal system that utilizes Milton’s language in a way that enhances and justifies male privilege is enough to fuel such distaste. The seeds of contemporary feminist critique of Paradise Lost are contained within this single sentence. Of note, though, is that Wollstonecraft still considers Milton a “great man” (85).[12] She engages with and utilizes his language in support of her own beliefs, so it is of great import to not dismiss the reverence and respect Wollstonecraft had for Milton and his work. Consider Wollstonecraft’s emphasis on lines 634-8 of Book IV:

‘To whom thus Eve with perfect beauty adorn’d,
My Author and Disposer, what thou bidst
Unargued I obey; so God ordains;
God is thy law, thou mine: to know no more
Is Woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise.[13]

“These are exactly the arguments that I have used to children” Wollstonecraft remarks, while adding, “but I have added, your reason is now gaining strength, and, till it arrives at some degree of maturity, you must look up to me for advice—then you ought to think, and only rely on God” (85). Wollstonecraft’s emphasis is to show the lack of independence allotted by such sentiments. Her key issues with patriarchal values became encapsulated herein.   Wollstonecraft finds such treatment infantilizing and demeaning.

As Steven Blakemore states, “Wollstonecraft hence makes a series of condemnatory connections between Milton’s prelapsarian Eve and the postlapsarian women who are argued into debilitating ignorance by males using Milton’s authoritative language” (452). These “connections” serve to show how Milton’s language has been morphed into a language of subjection. However, it is important to note that Wollstonecraft was a revolutionary[14] who co-opted Milton’s language[15] to defend revolutionary sentiment. The writer to whom Wollstonecraft responded to in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Edmund Burke, “equated what [he] envisioned as an epistemological revolution with Satan’s revolt- the satanic presumption, pride, and lust for forbidden knowledge inscribed in the textual falls of rebellious angels and postlapsarian people”. This was in opposition to the “subversive allegory that revolutionary readers were writing: Satan as revolutionary liberator or… Eve as feminist rebel” (Blakemore, 451-452).

In Joseph Wittreich’s Feminist Milton, he points out a key passage from Wollstonecraft’s The Female Reader (1789), where she has copied from Books IV and V of Paradise Lost. According to Wittreich, Wollstonecraft “reminds us through the words of others that she is ‘sick of hearing about the sublimity of Milton’ always from those who ‘could not enter into the spirit’ of Milton or understand him” (35).   Fittingly, Wollstonecraft’s daughter was one who fully grasped and understood Milton. According to Sandra M. Gilbert, “endlessly studying her mother’s works and her father’s, Mary Shelley may be said to have ‘read’ her family and to have been related to her reading, for books appear to have functioned as her surrogate parents, pages and words standing in for flesh and blood” (223).[16] Mary Shelley not only comprehended the “spirit” of Milton, but also, much like her mother, saw how the language of Paradise Lost could be used to subvert authority.[17]

It is specifically through Miltonic language that the Creature articulates his struggle to his creator. Throughout the genesis of Frankenstein, Shelley repeatedly records in her journal that she and her husband were entrenched in a reading of Paradise Lost, wherein Percy Bysshe Shelley would read aloud from the epic as his wife composed her novel. Interestingly, like her mother, Shelley “with conscious dignity, or Satanic pride, turned to hell for sublimer subjects” (Vindication, 91). Victor Frankenstein and his Creation are denizens of a burning hell, constantly alluding to their lapsarian states—and to Paradise Lost. “I bore a hell within me nothing could extinguish”, Victor laments, upon the demise of Justine Moritz for a crime he knows to be committed by his creation (113).[18] This line corresponds with line 467 of Book IX in regard to Satan, which is part of a whole that truly translates into the text of Frankenstein:

But the hot Hell that always in him burns,

Though in mid-heaven, soon ended his delight,

And tortures him now more, the more he sees

Of pleasure not for him ordained: then soon

Fierce hate he recollects, and all his thoughts

Of mischief, gratulating, thus excites.

This is the Creature who enacts his vengeance on Justine Moritz, and his assumption that she would reject him. In fact he comments, “thanks to the lessons of Felix and the sanguinary laws of man, I have learned to work mischief” (168). Similarly, Book IV contains language that reverberates into the theme of Frankenstein, such as the famous line “Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell” (75) or earlier in the same Book when the narrator remarks “His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir/ The hell within him, for within him hell/ He brings…” (19-21)

Gilbert points out that “Frankenstein answers the questions posed by Milton through explicit or implicit allusions to Milton, retelling the story of the fall not so much to protest against it as to clarify its meaning” (225). To clarify meaning is more than authorship, it is criticism. It is this sentiment that gives credence to Mary Shelley’s critical importance as a reader of Paradise Lost. In her journals, there are repeated mentions of Shelley reading Paradise Lost as she is actively writing Frankenstein. Shelley was immensely invested in reading Paradise Lost—probably in no small part because her parents both wrote critical materials on the work.[19]

Where Wollstonecraft attempted to negotiate Eve’s prelapsarian role, contemplating how to “rouse [her] sex from the flowery bed, on which they supinely sleep life away” (198), Shelley was reaching beyond to interpret the ramifications of postlapsarian existence and to comprehend the nature and meaning of the fall. This is the continuum, the critical point upon which the discourse of mother and daughter rests. In casting her discourse to the depths of hell, Shelley was conducting an extension of her mother’s work. As stated by Joseph Wittreich, “Mary learned from her mother that the book men believe educates them into submission actually educates them otherwise—into truth and gentleness, dignity and wisdom” (81). Raised to be literate and literary, as an intellectual companion and equal to the powerful men in her life, from Godwin to Shelley, Mary Shelley was the realization of the hopes and wild dreams of her mother. And in this realization, a true matriarchal lineage is carried out in Miltonic discourse.

Works Cited

Blake, William. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” The William Blake Archive. Library of Congress. Web. 2 Jul 2013. <;.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Shelley, Mary (with Percy Shelley). The Original Frankenstein. Ed. Charles E. Robinson. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A vindication of the rights of woman [electronic resource]: with strictures on political and moral subjects. London: J. Johnson, 1792.

Blakemore, Steven. “Rebellious Reading: The Doubleness of Wollstonecraft’s Subversion of Paradise Lost.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 34.4 (1992): 451-480.

Gilbert, Sandra “Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers: Reflections on Milton’s Bogey,” PMLA 93, 1978, 368-82; rpt. Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, 1979, 187-211.

Shawcross, John T. John Milton: The Critical Heritage Volume 1 1628-1731. London & New York: Routledge, 1972.

Shawcross, John T. John Milton: The Critical Heritage Volume 2 1732-1801. London & New York: Routledge, 1972.

Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. Feminist Milton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.

[1] Shared Experience is an Oxford-based theatre company, which utilizes a very interior look at authors and texts.

[2] For clarity’s sake, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley will be referred to as “Mary Shelley”.

[3] In resplendent attire.

[4] Mary Shelley is 43 in her portrait, while her mother is 38.

[5] The influence of Percy Bysshe Shelley is of import to the writing of Frankenstein, but is not the primary focus of this paper.

[6] It should be noted that there is no matriarchal line in Paradise Lost, which only serves to make this matriarchal inheritance of Miltonic discourse even more striking.

[7] This is in doubt partially due to the obsession with the activities of the Shelley circle among the press and gossips back in England in the summer of 1816.

[8] Some would argue that Wollstonecraft was the original feminist theorist.

[9] Fanny, Wollstonecraft’s first daughter, felt the pressures of her mother’s legacy, which may have contributed to her suicide.

[10] Referring to the common and incorrect belief among Christians in the eighteenth century that Islam did not permit women souls.

[11] This echoes Dr. Samuel Johnson’s interpretation of Milton’s life and works in his Lives of the English Poets: “His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferior beings. That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. He thought woman made only for obedience, and man only for rebellion.” (157).

[12] This may be Wollstonecraft’s difference in how she approaches Milton criticism in comparison with Dr. Johnson’s work. Johnson seemed to reprimand Milton the man instead of taking his writing in a separate vein.

[13] Wollstonecraft’s emphasis is retained.

[14] Wollstonecraft’s barricade adventures are well documented, as she supported French revolutionaries until it became unsafe for British expatriates, and she was forced to leave.

[15] Wollstonecraft, of course, knew that Milton was himself a revolutionary.

[16] This is a key concept in Shared Experience’s Mary Shelley.

[17] And, in her close reading of her mother’s text, she learned just how to do so.

[18] By extension, this crime is Victor’s. Had he not abandoned his Creature, his brother would be alive.

[19] Godwin’s An Enquiry concerning Political Justice from 1793 contains Godwin’s thoughts on Satan as virtuous, compassionate, and sympathetic.

Eve’s Daughters and God’s Sons: Power and Inheritance in Milton’s Paradise Lost and Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder

Eve is a complicated figure in Paradise Lost. In trying to sort out modern from seventeenth century concepts of subjugation and oppression, it is helpful to look at Milton’s epic through the lens of one of his female contemporaries.   Lucy Hutchinson wrote her own retelling of Genesis in Order and Disorder and only recently has the poem been credited to her and been published in full. Originally, the work was published anonymously in 1679 with only the first five cantos—twelve years after the initial publication of Paradise Lost and five years after the extended second edition. David Norbrook, the complete poem’s modern editor, thinks it likely though uncertain that Hutchinson wrote the poem after reading Paradise Lost. For several centuries the poem was attributed to Hutchinson’s brother, Sir Allen Apsley. The five-canto Order and Disorder has the same essential storyline of Paradise Lost, but there are several indications that the rest of the text was in circulation during the early eighteenth century.1 Because Hutchinson and Milton were both Puritans and supporters of parliamentary rule in the English Civil War, they prove an appropriate pairing—in no small part helped by their choosing of the same material. Notably, because Hutchinson may have written or revised her version after Milton, it’s likely she was responding to his work. In comparing the Eves of these contrasting poems it becomes possible to test whether or not accusations of misogyny lobbed at Milton are justified.

Hutchinson makes for a good testing ground because there are many striking concordances between her and Milton. This includes the fact (indicated by David Norbrook in his contextual work that accompanies his edition of Order and Disorder) that both Milton and Hutchinson entrusted sensitive manuscripts into the care of a mutual friend, the Earl of Anglesey, which suggest that they were aware of one another. Hutchinson and Milton have an interesting political and religious background, with concurrences and differences in their beliefs in predestination.2   Both faced great difficulty after the Restoration of Charles II. Colonel John Hutchinson was one of the signers of the death warrant for King Charles I, and was nearly executed. He escaped execution and detainment with his wife’s assistance for this charge, but still was detained and died in prison after an uprising a few years later. Hutchinson’s Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson was her bid to protect the memory of her beloved spouse from castigation. Milton narrowly escaped execution for his role as the writer of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and his general role in the Protectorate as Secretary for Foreign Tongues—his escape was probably due to his blindness and to friends such as Andrew Marvell. Hutchinson and Milton would have both been very familiar with the same doctrines regarding Genesis and the theological topics approached in their respective works. These commonalities make for a solid background for comparison. Norbrook points out that there are “several apparent parallels” in Hutchinson’s writing to Paradise Lost that are not reliant on a common source text like Genesis, indicating that Order and Disorder is written after and in conversation with the Milton’s work (p. xvii). Some of the parallels are the similarity of the narrative structure (with the obvious omission in Hutchinson’s version of Satan and the war in Heaven) and correspondences in language choice— several lines and many scenes in Order and Disorder echo Paradise Lost. In what follows, I assume that Order and Disorder responds to Paradise Lost, recognizing that there can as yet be no certainty in the matter.

In Order and Disorder, there are several moments in which Hutchinson seems to be admonishing Milton for his grandiose scale and style. Hutchinson begins her narrative by stating that she has no intention of deviating from the scope of her source material—both an admonishment of Milton and a humbling of herself in relation to her past translations of Lucretius’s atheist text.4 The first of these admonishments occurs in Canto One, lines thirty-eight through forty-two (emphasis mine):

What dark Eternity hath kept concealed
From mortals’ apprehensions, what hath been
Before the race of time did first begin,
It were presumptuous folly to inquire.
Let not my thoughts beyond their bounds aspire.

What Hutchinson cites as Milton’s “presumptuous folly” is in believing himself beyond mere man when he claims, “I may assert eternal providence,/ And justify the ways of God to men” (I.25-6). Hutchinson disapproves of his extensive and extra-biblical descriptions of the war in Heaven, and Milton’s “director’s cut” approach to a biblical story, as seen in the following lines:

But circumstances that we cannot know

Of their rebellion and their overthrow

We will not dare t’invent…5

… Let us in its own blazing conduct go

And look no further than light doth show

(4.43-5, 4.59-60)

Milton’s grand scope and vision are practically blasphemous to Hutchinson, who is taking a humbled route to her interpretation. Hutchinson is clearly pointing out that “what hath been/ Before the race of time did first begin” is not even fit for human interpretation—a possible indictment of Milton.

In her work, Hutchinson almost seems to be taking Milton’s work to put it back into the proper order. The proof for such interpretation is how careful Hutchinson is about her own presentation of the material. Hutchinson goes so far as to justify her use of poetry, reminding her audience “a great part of Scripture was originally written in verse” (5).6 A writer so conscious of how her work is perceived is very likely one who has thought through many of these arguments about other works. Hutchinson’s purpose and intent mean that she “tremble[s] to think of turning Scripture into a romance” (5).7 Hutchinson even takes a moment to write a line of her epic to strike down the belief God created the world on the basis of a pre-planned Idea when she writes “… let’s waive Platonic dreams/ Of worlds made in Idea…” (I. 173-4). This is in opposition to Milton’s lines “… it showed/ In prospect from his throne, how good how fair,/ Answering his great idea” (VII. 555-7).

Instances where Hutchinson is fearful of stepping out bounds and speaks almost straight to Paradise Lost are plentiful. Line 312 of Canto III states, “Whether [Adam] begged a mate it is not known”—contrasting with lines 357 through 367 of Book VIII of Paradise Lost:

O by what Name, for thou above all these,

Above mankinde, or aught then mankinde higher,

Surpassest farr my naming, how may I

Adore thee, Author of this Universe,

And all this good to man, for whose well being

So amply, and with hands so liberal

Thou hast provided all things: but with mee

I see not who partakes. In solitude

What happiness, who can enjoy alone,

Or all enjoying, what contentment find?

Thus I presumptuous…

Hutchinson is almost rebutting the embellishments of Milton by pointing out specific instances where she deviates from his visions.

Hutchinson encompasses all of Genesis, which is a key difference between the two texts. This difference gives Eve the textual company of other virtuous females (Sarah, Rebecca, and the rest of her progeny) who are in constant communion with God throughout the text.8 Starkly, Milton’s Eve is only in the company of Sin, Satan’s monstrous daughter. Sin is the only female to give birth within Paradise Lost, to the incestuous and rapacious Death. Sin’s womb is a place of horrors, not a place of sacred creation. Milton’s description of the Sin and Death’s eternal dance of terror turns unseen motherhood into a den of horror. This is then a foreshadowing of Eve’s future pains in childbirth, and a point of tension for female readers. The counterpoint would naturally be that rather than monsters, Eve’s line will eventually give birth to Christ, so there is a redemptive purity foreshadowed by the promise of children to Adam and Eve.9 Here the universal reader sees evidence of the variations not only in structure, but also in purpose and their effect on Eve. It is still important to note the consistent references to Eve as the mother of mankind and her progeny eventually begetting Christ in Paradise Lost. The variation is that in Order and Disorder, the reader sees the line begin.

Of course, concessions must be given in the variations in style and purpose between the two writers. Hutchinson admits to a “weak sense”, and hopes that the source material shall “Quicken my dull earth with celestial fire,/ And let the sacred theme that is my choice/ Give utterance and music to my voice/ Singing the works by which thou art revealed” (1.34-36). Hutchinson’s style is nowhere near as epic and cinematic as Milton’s, and she intends to justify her personal and political beliefs within a biblical context. Milton takes on the elevated position of justifying the ways of God to men as he “pursues things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme” (I.15-6). Norbrook points out that “Hutchinson could be deeply suspicious of the powers of poetry to corrupt” (xxi), which is why she treads so gently in her writing, and why she pins in so many admonishments that seem to apply to Milton and his style. These motivations mean that the overall method of comparison should focus on the places in the texts where there is probable conversation occurring between Hutchinson and Milton in a study of scenes which are similar.

Milton’s Eve is far more developed as a character. She is placed in lavish Ovidian context, and her nativity retells the tale of Narcissus.   While Eve is saved from Narcissus’s fate by divine intervention, nonetheless the episode demands a closer look. Is Eve’s self-love mere feminine vanity,10 or is there something deeper beneath the surface? Her image in the water has “answering looks of sympathy and love” (IV.464-5, emphasis mine). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘sympathy,’ within the parameters of this line, means “The quality or state of being affected by the condition of another with a feeling similar or corresponding to that of the other; the fact or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings of another or others; fellow-feeling.” The significance of this definition and the specific usage of the word ‘sympathy’ highlights that Eve is the only autonomous female figure in Paradise:11 the only place she will find feminine sympathy and understanding is with herself. Eve’s femininity brands her as an outsider in Eden, making her pining a “vain desire” (IV.466) in its futility.

In criticism, Eve has often been seen as liable to a fall even in her pre-lapsarian state because of her origin. Her isolation and Ovidian roots define her as an outsider. However, according to Diane McColley in her book Milton’s Eve, “Milton has fashioned an Eve who in all the prelapsarian scenes is not only sufficient to stand and able to grow, but who while standing and growing, however vulnerably, is a pattern and composite of active goodness and a speaking picture of the recreative power of poetry itself” (4). Milton may not have given Eve paradise and creation, but he gave her a voice and desires of her own. Milton’s Eve conveys a longing for communion with God that is at once tragic and admirable. One could argue that her distance from God, imposed by the hierarchy of her innate subservience to Adam, not only explains but necessitates how easily she is seduced by the thought of being on the same level as God, to be “A goddess among gods” (IX.547).12 In stark contrast, Hutchinson’s Eve is simpler, but she is not alone in her text. She accepts her fate far more willingly in her post-lapsarian state, with humility rather than desolation. This Eve lacks because her descriptions are bound so tightly by biblical context. The lack of Ovidian influence may make her less “vain”, but it robs her of the depth and repentant sorrow of Milton’s Eve. Hutchinson’s Eve through her simplicity does in turn become less culpable than her counterpart. She escapes a fate of possible condemnations to vanity and selfishness, because the moment of her creation is brief and without much invention. Hutchinson’s long meditation on the need for human companionship and the purpose of marriage in Canto 3 reflects Adam’s dialogue with God in Book VIII of Paradise Lost. She seems, in this segment, to even engage with Paradise Lost (“Whether he begged a mate it is not known” (312)). Also, by creating Eve the prohibition of the fruit, Hutchinson reframes a bit of the Genesis narrative. Hutchinson keeps it simple, stating:

And of the bone did a fair virgin frame

Who, by her maker brought, to Adam came

And was in matrimonial union joined,

By love and nature happily combined.


Admittedly, Hutchinson’s Eve does not require nearly so much seduction to her fall as Milton’s Eve. While Milton’s seduction takes up an entire two hundred and fifty lines in Book IX, Hutchinson’s Satan works far less industriously than Milton’s Satan in seducing Eve, and takes approximately thirty lines to facilitate the downfall of man. Hutchinson might argue that so much invention is a defect in Milton’s work, but it is much more poignant a Fall in Milton. The simplicity inherent in Hutchinson’s style truly robs Eve of her distinctive voice. This particular instance is one where Milton’s epic is more firmly rooted in Eve’s favour.

The two Eves moreover differ in their marriages, bringing up discussions of consensual marriage and its place in Eden. Milton distinctly frames Eve in a mythical context. If one were to trace other mythical implications in Eve’s narrative, there comes the issue of Eve’s flight, seizure, and submission by Adam’s hand. In Classical mythology, flight and chase are a constant trope in scenarios of rape or attempted rape. That Eve “fly’st” from Adam, who pursues her with the words, “I seek thee, and thee claim” (IV.487) initiates a tension of consent. The contemporary reader, having been oriented by Eve’s awakening within the realm of Classical mythology, would be able to have images of the flights of nymphs and goddesses such as Daphne and Proserpine within their immediate vocabulary. Like Proserpine, Eve has been given before her capability to consent to Adam, for he has laid his “claim”. ‘Claim’ is defined in the OED as “A demand for something as due; an assertion of a right to something”, which is precisely how Adam sees the situation—to him, Eve’s duty is to be his companion and he shall claim her as his. The episode is not without merit for Adam, for it is his right, according to God. It also is powered in part by Adam’s love for Eve, one that strikes him upon first sight as “… into all things from her air inspired/ The spirit of love and amorous delight” (VIII.476-7). It is a pre-arrangement that tests how much free will and consent actually plays into the scenario, but is not devoid of romantic love.

Most alarming is the usage of “seized” in lines 488-9: “with that thy gentle hand seized mine, I yielded…” The word “seize” is a complex word, whose definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary range from “to be in possession of” to “To take hold of with the hands, claws, teeth, etc.; in mod. use, to take hold of suddenly or eagerly, to clutch”. Opposed to “take” or “held”, the word has connotations of violence. “Seized”,13 then, has a more forceful turn, which is then accompanied by Eve proclaiming, “I yielded” in the same line. Paired together, the words bring about a more violent connotation of battle, as likewise from the Oxford English Dictionary, “yield” has the meaning “Surrendered, given up, granted”. Thus, Adam and Eve’s union becomes one of taking and submission, finalizing the relationship as one founded upon ownership, although an ownership that is loving.

Hutchinson’s clear-cut dealing with consensual marriage offers a contrast to Milton’s troubling narrative. In Hutchinson, Adam and Eve are immediately enraptured with each other. Hutchinson makes much of “We, late of one made two, again in one” (3.405, emphasis mine) in order to not only establish consent,14 but also a sense of equality in the marriage. In marriage, according to Hutchinson, man and woman are a whole. This emphasis takes away Eve’s isolation in the Garden, because there is no tension when there is a balance in the marriage of man and woman. Most telling in how consensual marriage is negotiated by the two writers is how the ownership of Paradise itself is distributed. In Paradise Lost, dominion is Adam’s inheritance, and he is given supreme rule over all of creation. For political reasons,14 Hutchinson distributes dominion between husband and wife as one. This emphasizes not only Hutchinson’s belief in marriage as a balance, but furthermore subverts the claim of divine-right kingship and the monarchy. In Order and Disorder, God grants creation as a dowry to the newly married couple upon recognizing their union, stating to them as a pair, “I give you right to all her fruits and plants,/ Dominion over her inhabitants… Are all made subject by your command” (3.421-22, 426). Shannon Miller aptly indicates “that the status of marriage was inextricable from political debates about the relationship of a monarch to his people” (355). Considering the precarious political position of Hutchinson and her husband with the return of Charles II, it is worth reminding that this argument is more political than feminist.

There follows the issue of variations in female power in both texts. Hutchinson’s Eve is less culpable than Milton’s Eve and never has to undergo the sheer excess of Adam’s litany against his wife. This is not to say Hutchinson’s Adam does not blame Eve for his fall, as told by the moment Adam cries, ‘’Twas the woman that thou gavest me’” (5.39-40). However, Adam’s lament to Eve is poisoned with vitriol in Milton’s text in Book IX. In fairness, this seems to be more of an observation of how Adam has fallen than an actual indication of Milton’s predisposition toward women. This is a moment where Milton and Hutchinson are in agreement,15 as they both can see the malevolence in Adam’s outburst. In fact, the vehemence in Milton’s text almost seems even more radically in Eve’s favour, a reading supported by Christ’s chastisement of Adam when he demands, “Was she thy God, that her thou didst obey/ Before his voice…” (X.145-6). There obviously is a certain allowance of power in Milton’s text to Eve. In her essay “Milton and the Sexes” McColley comments that:

[Milton] broke the stereotypical scapegoating of Eve as essentially a temptress and uniquely gave her responsible motives for her independent movements on the morning of the Fall: her sense of responsibility for the Garden, the epitome of the whole natural world, that flourishes in response to her maternal but unmanagerial attention, and her refusal to let the existence of evil destroy the processes of a free community. Problematic as her departure may be, these motives are not proleptic of the Fall, but of human responsibility to repair both the human community and the Earth… (179)

So, thus, Milton does give Eve some power, which does not seem nearly so clear without close reading of the text by the universal reader of Paradise Lost.

Also of importance is how the two poets work with the puzzle of Genesis’s dual creation story. Genesis tells how “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). This is the first telling of Creation, which makes no distinction between the order and manner of creation—an equal creation. However, Genesis doubles up and changes the chronological order of Creation. According to the second book of Genesis, man is created the day God “made the earth and the heavens” (2:4). This contrasts with the earlier account where man is created on the sixth day. Hutchinson avoids this ambiguous and confusing narrative structure, and sticks to the garden creation, commonly known in theological terms as “the J tradition”. By contrast, Milton has Adam adhere to the J tradition, while Raphael relates the Priestly account of 1.1-2.3.

What is most striking is how much closer Hutchinson’s women are to God in Order and Disorder. Milton’s only woman is deprived of heavenly discourse, which serves to fuel most arguments of misogyny. Hutchinson’s collective women are often conduits of God’s will.16 This seems to be more of an effect of the variations in structure, as opposed to misogyny. Milton does not take the chance Books 11 and 12 give him to highlight the strong women of Genesis and their communion with God. His narrative scope is only a small portion of Genesis, which never goes outside Paradise physically. Even for the entire discussion of humanity’s future between Adam and Michael, Eve is asleep, and the focus is on a patriarchal lineage. Hutchinson’s Eve is in the company of her daughters, while God’s sons surround Milton’s Eve.

Order and Disorder goes a fair distance to show how a woman has dominion over her children. Milton’s Eve never gets to have her children in the narrative, thus we do not get to see her come into her ownership of her place as mother of mankind. Hutchinson shows us a succession of mothers, all of whom are subjugated to their husbands, but yet conduits of God’s will over their children. According to Shannon Miller, “when [Hutchinson] represents mothers such as Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel, maternal control becomes linked to the expansion of government and empire” (347). Hutchinson is able to negotiate a form of female control by extending the reach of her narrative. “Eve emerges as a central agent in the poem” (Miller, 361). Because darker forces in the text “hoped death would prevent the dreaded womb/ From whence their happier successors must come” (4.158-9), Eve is given a large sum of power in her generational capabilities. Miller does excellent work with this concept, explaining:

The generative identity, and power, of Eve causes their fear; as her ‘dreaded womb’ emerges in the narrative, Eve’s body becomes a site of power… In striking contrast to Milton’s generative imagery of what is ‘to come/ Out of [Adam’s] loins’ (XI.454-5) all males ‘come’ from Eve’s womb’. (Miller, 361).

It remains that Hutchinson’s account does benefit the women characters, in giving them a balanced rule over all creation in contract with their spouses. There furthermore is a necessity to give Milton his due at the end of the day. McColley reminds readers “in Paradise Lost subordination is not inferiority, and that Milton’s Eve is equal to Adam in sanctitude while remaining… in allegiance” (Milton’s Eve, 35).17 Milton isn’t concerned with the politics of consensual marriage for a multitude of reasons. He is more removed from Hutchinson’s political sphere, and devotes himself to more religious pursuits at this time.18 In many ways, Milton is progressive, a midpoint between ancient anti-feminine doctrine and modern feminist readings of religious text, and perhaps what makes his seeming subjugation of the female so evident is the fact that he is in a transitory point between the two. While there are differences in each text’s treatment of Eve, many of those differences are prompted by structure and purpose, rather than a malevolent or misogynist attitude on Milton’s behalf. Hutchinson’s engagement with Milton is to chide him for reaching beyond religious propriety.

[1] For an in depth look at the publication and circulation of the text, please see David Norbook’s “Note on the Text and Editing” in the Blackwell Edition of Order and Disorder.

2 Norbrook notes the differences: Hutchinson is a strict Calvinist who asserts double-predestination; Milton is an Arminian who believes that human choice is involved in salvation.

3 Hutchinson explicitly refers to a necessity to atone for this in her preface to Order and Disorder, stating, “I found it necessary to have recourse to the fountain of Truth, to wash out all ugly wild impressions, and to fortify my mind with a strong antidote against all the poison of human wit and wisdom that I have been dabbling withal” (3). How successful she was in purifying her mind is difficult to tell, as some critics have argued that there is a fair amount of influence from Lucretius in her style.

4 Norbrook notes in his footnote on this line that Hutchinson’s “refusal to go beyond scripture here strongly contrasts with [Paradise Lost]”.

5 Milton makes a similar point in his The Reason of Church Government.

6 In 1674, Andrew Marvell wrote “On Paradise Lost” as a prefix to the second edition. The first stanza, describing Marvell’s initial reaction to the poem, may have informed or at least described Hutchinson’s emotions upon reading. Marvell goes on to admire the poem, but this first stanza is printed here for context:

When I beheld the poet, blind yet bold,

In slender book his vast design unfold,

Messiah crowned, God’s reconciled decree,

Rebelling angels, the forbidden tree,

Heaven, Hell, Earth, Chaos, all—the argument

Held me a while, misdoubting his intent,

That he would ruin (for I saw him strong)

The sacred truths to fable and old song

(So Samson groped the temple’s posts in spite)

The world o’erwhelming to revenge his sight.

7 Because these portions are beyond the scope of what I would consider in direct conversation with Milton, they are not investigated in depth. Much can be said, perhaps in another investigation, about the amount of power and autonomy these women are given in contrast to their biblical counterparts.

8 This redemption does come in Paradise Regained by Mary’s virgin birth.

9 A common trope of ridicule in the Restoration on the stage in regards to overly vain behavior.

10 While all of the other autonomous figures, including Adam and the divine beings, are implied to be gendered masculine even when they are sexless.

11 Milton would argue that Eve has a partner in Adam, but the famous line, “He for God only, she for God in him” (IV.299) create a distance that is difficult to reconcile in regards to Eve’s relationship with God. It seems as though her outsider status makes worship more removed for her, although she does pray and engage in worship—but only with Adam.

12 Admittedly, “seized” is qualified by “gentle”—this claim is not intended to be violent, but the term still has the meaning ascribed to it, therefore bringing in power exchanges.

13 A valuable political element of marriage, especially considering the Civil Marriage Act of 1653. Consent has always been integral to marriage in England, dating back to the days of the Middle Ages, where verbal consent was a legal necessity for establishing a marriage.

14 After her husband’s death, Hutchinson was fairly active in her political writings, which were distributed among family and friends. She maintained that her husband’s actions were right, and that divine retribution would be served upon those who believed in the divine right of kings.

15 There are points where both poets are in agreement about the status of their literary charges. Each expresses a chiding of sorts to Adam and his maltreatment of his spouse, as well as an admiration for Eve’s repentant nature that seeks to carry the blame as penitence for Original Sin.

16 The most valuable example of this is Rebecca, wife of Isaac, leading the reader to see how her plot to have Isaac recognize her younger son Jacob as heir over Esau is her working God’s will. This is an instance where the wife is more receptive to divine will than the husband, which makes for a fascinating counterpoint against Paradise Lost. This also fits into Hutchinson’s outlook that marriage is a conversation and partnership.

17 In fact, subordination is an incredibly important element to Puritan life; neither Milton nor Hutchinson saw a wife’s subordination to her husband as bad thing. To be subservient was to obey God’s will.

18 Not that Paradise Lost is not political; it is simply political in different ways.

Works Cited

Hutchinson, Lucy, and David Norbrook. Order and Disorder. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2001.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

McColley, Diane. Milton’s Eve. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. Feminist Milton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.