on 7 February 2007
Well worth reading if you want to understand the context of Milton's work, as it vividly recreates the events of the time (Civil War, great fire etc). It gives a great insight into Milton the man and his domestic upheavals, as well as analysing the poetry and prose with a very sharp eye. Very readable too - covers a lot of ground in a short space.
on 23 February 2008
This is an extremely good introduction to the greatest epic poet in the English language. Milton is placed securely in his 17th century context, and Wilson is adept at well-executed reminders of how the values and religious perceptions of the 17th century poets can powerfully distance them from us. Nevertheless, the poetry is central, with an excellent chapter on `Paradise Lost', and a particularly informative discussion of `Samson Agonistes'.
The descriptions of 17th century London are moving and work upon the senses (Wilson suggests wryly that the child Milton may have been aware of the aging Shakespeare, a close neighbour in the warrens of the Stuart city). Wilson is very sympathetic to the Anglicanism that Milton seemed to suspect for most of his intellectual life, and Wilson also empathises with Milton's keen sense of intellectual superiority, which the later writer echoes with a distinctly patrician note among his strong and fluent music.
Wilson's book dates from the early 1980s, and is definitely set in opposition to the then orthodox views championed by the Marxist historian Christopher Hill in his `Milton and the English Revolution', and Hill's reading of Milton receives the closest questioning in the book.
For me, the Milton I read in the great poetry and prose is positioned somewhere between these two books. Hill and Wilson would provide excellent starting points for an A level reader of Milton, and Wilson's writing is a fine example of assured critical prose addressing a great subject.