||Better as a critical introduction for undergraduates is Stevie
Davies's lively contribution to the Harvester New Readings series.
Her brief presumably ran quite counter to Moseley's in that
this is a series which is consciously and explicitly 'responsive
to new bearings which have recently emerged in literary analysis'.
Davies's primary theoretical and methodological focus is on
gender politics: 'Sexuality is a major theme of the present
book because it is an intense emotional and political preoccupation
of Milton's poetry. My feminist approach is based on a perception
that Milton at once identified himself with and vehemently disowned
something female which was experienced as part of the self.'
She is brightest when she sticks closest to this thesis. Her
comments on Paradise Lost reopen the feminist debate
it has occasioned in interesting ways, which perceive in the
poem a complex of precise tensions:
The Miltonic male at once idealises and looks down on the
female ... but the power-structure he imposes as fortification
to his ego is overturned in the love-relation ... Sexuality
violates autonomy and therefore threatens the sense of safety.
I think undergraduates will find much in this to ponder. Her
perspective proves particularly rich in her discussion of Samson
Agonistes, which 'plays out a familiar paradox': 'the
male is enervated by his triumph; he is colloquially said to
"die", his vigour "spent"; predator becomes prey ... male sexuality
opens him to effeminacy.' Some may disagree with this as an
account of the narrative of events in Samson, but
it is a bold and committed reading which should stimulate some
of Davies's intended undergraduate readership to debate.
|| The Year's Work in English Studies,
||In this brief but densely detailed volume Stevie
Davies, rising to the challenge of the Harvester series' title,
delivers a genuinely 'new reading' of Milton and his works.
Grounded in a close attention to language which acknowledges
debts to Empson, Ricks and Fish, and employing psychological
insights which recall Kerrigan but draw primarily on Davies's
own Jungian and feminist studies, her reading also pays appropriate
attention to the political, social, and cultural setting of
the writer and his times. The result engages us in a Milton
freshly imagined as accessible to modernist and even post-modernist
sensibilities without being denied to more traditional perspectives.
... Her conclusion seeks certainty in neither traditional harmonizing,
pietistic defences, nor in those revisions which deny entirely
the stated meaning and intent of poems and author. The 'irresolvable
conflicts' between filial roles and paternal power, between
the capacity of 'naming' in language and the 'meaning' to which
it aspires but can never attain, and all those other inevitable
binaries of the fallen world are sharply revealed in Milton's
life and works as both source and inner structure of expression.
The strength of Davies's critical arguments, like the power
she finds in Milton's works, derives from the refusal to allow
'such conflict[s] a less than ambivalent resolution' (p.205).
This ambivalence in Milton is preserved even in the formal endings
that paradoxically resist closure by invoking new beginnings;
in Davies it is manifest in a continuing recognition that work
rooted in a struggle at once to defend and to transcend 'subjective
relativism' must itself be perpetually begun again in 'new readings'.
Davies's Milton is a text which can be read with
profit by Miltonists, who may or may not find agreement but
will find stimulation, and by less experienced readers seeking
a rich and enthusiastic vade-mecum.
||Review of English Studies, August
||Stevie Davies [stresses] the conflict between
Milton's emotional commitment to harmony and his intellectual
awareness of cosmic and linguistic instability. The chapter
which outlines this approach is full of first-rate close readings
of the prose particularly, and Davies's minute examination of
Paradise Lost is responsive to the presence of
a Spenserian sense of beauty and holiness (when did we last
hear those words in literary criticism?) as well as of turbulence
and strain. Much of the harmony in the poem is traced to Eve,
who is seen as 'attaining a greater stability and certainty
than any other character'. If Davies cannot make us warm to
Paradise Regained, she at least explains its stylistic
and ideological narrowness convincingly as 'a record of what
can be said about silence and seen in blankness' (as if Beckett
had taken to epic!). On Samson Agonistes, rejecting
as oversimple the customary reading of the play as a positive
spiritual pilgrimage, she explores it as Milton's final confrontation
with the feminine in himself. Here, for the only time, I felt
that she risked being over-ingenious; elsewhere her use of a
feminist approach is temperate and helpful. I learned a good
deal from this book, and was grateful for the rare elegance
of its style as well as for the fertility of its ideas.
||English Studies: A Journal of English
Language and Literature, Vol 73 No. 6
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