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Faithful Labourers: A Reception History of Paradise Lost, 1667-1970Volume I: Style and Genre; Volume II: Interpretative Issues$
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John Leonard

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199666553

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199666553.001.0001

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The Milton Controversy: 1900–1970

The Milton Controversy: 1900–1970

(p.169) 3 The Milton Controversy: 1900–1970
Faithful Labourers: A Reception History of Paradise Lost, 1667-1970

John Leonard

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the twentieth-century attempt to ‘dislodge’ Milton. Leavis deplored Milton’s verse for its alleged ‘monotony’ and ‘ritual’, while Eliot complained that the poem had to be read twice: once for the sound and again for the sense. This chapter makes the case that the Milton attacked by Leavis and Eliot (and defended by C. S. Lewis) is the Milton constructed by Matthew Arnold in the previous century. Lewis reaffirmed Arnold’s notion of ‘the grand style’ until Ricks recovered the eighteenth-century view that Milton achieves close co-operation between sound and sense. This chapter engages with the question of whether it is possible to match sound with sense, and asks whether Ricks’s defence is still valid now that postmodern theorists have discounted its premises as a ‘fallacy’. Attention is paid to misquotation, including a baleful misquotation by Eliot that was picked up by Leavis and has since been picked up by theorists disdainful of both Leavis and Ricks.

Keywords:   Milton controversy, F. R. Leavis, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, Christopher Ricks, epic style

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