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Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot Hardcover – August 5, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Four hundred years after John Milton's birth, biographer and Oxford lecturer Beer (Bess: The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter) presents a loving tribute, a portrait of the poet in all his humanity. Drawing on newly available archives, Beer elegantly chronicles Milton's life from his precocious childhood (he read Greek and Latin when he was five) to his embattled support of Cromwell and his mature religious and political writings. Beer points out that Milton wasn't a one-note writer, but excelled in producing religious pamphlets (The Reason of Church Government), treatises on education and divorce (Areopagitica and The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce) and epic poetry (Paradise Lost). Although the specifics of Milton's three marriages are well known, Beer reveals the details of a little-discussed aspect of the poet's life: his passionate, and perhaps homoerotic, friendship with Charles Diodati. Planting Milton firmly in his time, one of political and religious upheaval, Beer's splendid biography portrays Milton (d. 1674) as both a radical and a traditionalist who drew on classical and Christian sources to contend again and again for freedom from tyranny and oppression. B&w illus. (Aug.) ""
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“It's a crucial part of the biographer's job to lead readers back through the life to the work. Beer does this very steadily and very well, and thereby gives Milton the anniversary present he deserves.” ―Guardian

“Ms Beer roots Milton in his period very well, both historically and physically--in the streets of booksellers and printing presses around St Paul's cathedral in London.” ―The Economist

“Beer gives a persuasive reading of the power and complexity of Paradis Lost, arguably the greatest religious poem in the English language.” ―Times (London)

“How refreshing to find Anna Beer's new biography, which takes Milton as a real, whole, complex person. Beer's Milton is a writer of prodigious creativity, in Latin and English, prose and verse, but he always relates to his time and place, in the teeming, cruel streets of London and the brilliant academies of Italy. She gives us clear, common-sense readings of the literature, vivid evocations of the social and political world, and probing yet sympathetic analyses of Milton's own emotional states, when he was ‘in love with a man' or an ideal. The biographer and the subject share the qualities that he himself most valued in poetry: simple, sensuous and passionate.” ―James Grantham Turner, author of One Flesh: Paradisal Marriage and Sexual Relations in the Age of Milton and Schooling Sex: Libertine Literature and Erotic Education in Italy, France, and England 1534-1685

“Anna Beer offers the most readable biography yet of the author of the most important poem in the English language. No one in the last 400 years has produced such a comprehensive portrait of the private man, the public citizen, the sublime poet, and the age he lived in.” ―Jack Lynch, author of Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife that Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard

“This is a beautifully clear account of a richly complex life, an account which is also fascinatingly vivid on the political and social background of the time. It's the best narrative I've read of the life of our greatest public poet.” ―Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; First Edition edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596914718
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596914711
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful biography, clear and intelligent, involving and honest. When the record is silent, which often happens with Milton's private life, Beer frankly declares that we don't know. All previous talk of Milton's three marriages, that the first was miserable and the last beautiful, has been purely speculative. Beer raises different possibilities and questions, yet makes clear that the page is blank. We know much more about Milton's intense friendships with men and Beer suggests this was the heart of his emotional life. (He expected the same kind of friendship with his wives, which may have created its own difficulties.)

Beer is very good on the book trade of the 17th century and excellent on the politics of the era. In the course of giving context to Milton's life, she provides one of the most succinct but involving accounts of the English Civil War and Restoration I've ever read. She does not shy away from theological matters and gives special attention to the pamphlets on divorce and censorship. Her close reading of PARADISE LOST does not get mired in jargon. And she is not afraid to be funny, which is a nice surprise in a book about Milton.

This biography is so good that it even made me want to read PARADISE LOST again, a work that can be as challenging as late Henry James when you're not in the right mood.
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Format: Paperback
Milton's life spanned an incredible period of British History. Unlike the relative stability of Elizabethan England when his father improved the family financial and social station, Milton faced a chain of instability: James - Charles I - Civil War - the Cromwell regime in its various phases and demise - Charles II - further turmoil.

In the more halcyon days, Milton's writing on divorce brought him notoriety. It became even more negative political capital as events took their course. Milton continued to follow his conscience, supporting the Parliamentarians and advocating republican ideals as the country changed and changed again. His most enduring work comes from the times of his deepest loss.

From what I knew of him, I should have extrapolated his political gains and losses with each regime change, but didn't. The book brings the truth alive in unambiguous prose. The author shows how his work fits his life, what he did and what he thought. What was fully new to me was Milton's blindness. The book also illustrates how the misogyny of the time rubbed off on Milton who had 3 wives and 3 daughters.

I chose this book, not so much for Milton, but for the times, and Anna Beers did not disappoint. She places Milton squarely in these times showing how he was of them and how they affected him. The end, devoted to an explication of Milton's most noted works will not disappoint those who read it for literary history.

I recommend this very readable book for anyone interested in the history or the literature of the time.
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Format: Paperback
Yet another biography of Milton. Why? University of Oxford Lecturer Anna Beer wastes no words in her refreshingly concise preface and states her goal in the first sentences: Milton was one of the world's greatest writers but "...the myth of the puritanical ascetic who hated women and took it on himself to justify his God has displaced the complex, erudite man who wrote those influential works and earned his place in the canon. At the quartercentenary of his birth, it is time for a re-assessment of John Milton's life, work and times." The reader is not disappointed. Beer applies an informed and lucid razor to the assumptions of many commentaries on Milton that have no basis. She knows the sources and makes no extravagant hypotheses. There is no need; Milton's literary, political and historic life was fantastically rich. Now that Milton's worship of chastity and manhood--including an amusingly profound reverence of semen--and his conventional but robust misogyny are well documented, what can we make of his life?

Beer succeeds in showing that Milton, malgré tout, deserves a huge but qualified respect. Few people who achieve greatness are free of evil or at least distasteful aspects. The author rarely offers a personal judgement: once about a particularly sloppy and resoundingly sexist remark from William Parker, the "most renowned" Milton biographer of the 20th century (who assumed that Milton's daughters were innately dim, although it was obvious that they were not given a decent education) and later about the shame of Oxford for having happily obeyed a royal request to burn Milton's books in 1660.
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