The Story of Marie Powell: Wife to Mr. Milton

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The Story of Marie Powell: Wife to Mr. Milton, by Robert Graves, 1943. This historical novel was based on a true story, the life of the young wife of poet John Milton. Graves tells it from her viewpoint and paints an unflattering portrait of the man. (That Milton worked as a censor, after having famously protested when others censored him.) Summarising the novel for the Carcanet edition, Dr Simon Brittan has written that "Graves regards [Milton] as one of the heinous monsters in the English poetic pantheon. Certainly his Mrs Milton is ill-used by a distended genius. Milton's first wife was sixteen when they married. Milton was after her dowry and when it did not follow he proved a domineering and prig, unresponsive to her sensuousness or her down-to-earth wit. It was a spiritual misalliance, too: her Catholicism sorted ill with his beliefs. The dramatic political and military events of the English civil war touch her life at every point, and we witness the execution of Charles I close up. The depiction of everyday life at the time and the merciless portrait of the young Milton, are spell-binding."[1]

Geoffrey Wall has concluded that Graves's Wife to Mr. Milton is 'a relentlessly effective satire on masculine self-regard.'[2] Matthew Adams has recently written, 'Ignoring the question of whether Milton had justly or unjustly been defamed, E.M. Forster pronounced Wife to Mr Milton a thumping good read yet remained concerned that Graves's portrait had depicted only half of the man, [... ]'[3] It has been noted that the English poet W.H. Auden liked to quote from Graves's Wife to Mr. Milton: "They tune the strings a little sharper at Cambridge."[4]

On a harsher note, James Macleod Sandison has reprimanded Graves's account of Milton: 'Before leaving the anti-Miltonists, I feel compelled to deplore Robert Graves' Wife to Mr. Milton: it is an unfortunate book which might do much to deepen the erroneous impression of Milton as a surly and narrow-minded puritan.'[5] In Graves's defence Ian McCormick has argued that 'The satiric reduction is a necessary one, for it appears to be part of a larger uneasiness in the text concerning the self-aggrandizement of the reasoning subject that might result in the straitjacket of the purely systematic or, at worst, the totalitarian ideologies of the modern period.'[6] This novel therefore shares a characteristic that McCormick has also identified in Graves's Antigua, Penny, Puce: 'Ultimately, Graves aetheticises history, politics and gender. there is a sportive element at work in his fiction which resists a permanent anchor.'[7]

Robert Graves's novel was republished in 2003 as part of the 'Millennium Graves' edition. More recently, Penguin Classics have published another edition of Graves, Robert. Wife to Mr Milton. (2012)

Further reading[edit]

  • Boldrini, Lucia. "(Im) Proper Wife: Robert Graves' Wife to Mr Milton." Focus on Robert Graves and His Contemporaries 2.4 (1995): 15–19.
  • Franssen, Paul, and A. J. Hoenselaars. The author as character: representing historical writers in Western literature. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1999.
  • Freedman, Morris. "Sporting with Milton." The American Scholar 67.1 (1998): 176–181.
  • Joseph, Michael. "A Librarian's Stroll Through Milton's Afterlife." The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries 65 (2012).
  • McCormick, Ian, “Graves’s Milton” in New Perspectives on Robert Graves, ed. Patrick J. Quinn (Associated University Press, 1999)136–145. ISBN 1575910209
  • Murray, Patrick. "Milton as Myth: A Reassessment." Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 63.249 (1974): 59–69.
  • Quinn, Patrick J. New Perspectives on Robert Graves. Susquehanna University Press, 1999.
  • Robson, W. W. "FR Leavis 1895–1978." The Sewanee Review 87.3 (1979): 507–514.
  • Steiner, George. "The Genius of Robert Graves." The Kenyon Review 22.3 (1960): 340–365.
  • De Groot, Jerome. The historical novel. Vol. 10. Routledge, 2009.
  • Hopkins, Chris. "Robert Graves and the Historical Novel in the 1930s." New Perspectives on Robert Graves ed. Patrick J. Quinn (Associated University Press, 1999): 128–35.
  • Sandison, James Macleod. "Milton and the non-orthodox reader; chiefly a study of the human elements in Eden." (M.A. thesis, The University of British Columbia, 1953.)
  • Schabert, Ina. "Fictional Biography, Factual Biography, and Their Contaminations." Biography 5.1 (1982): 1–16.
  • Wall, Geoffrey. "Milton: Lives and Deaths." The Cambridge Quarterly 39.1 (2010): 89–95

References[edit]

  1. ^ See The Story of Marie Powell, Wife to Mr.Milton: AND The Isles of Unwisdom (The Millennium Graves), edited by Simon Brittan (Carcanet, 2003)
  2. ^ Wall, Geoffrey. "Milton: Lives and Deaths." The Cambridge Quarterly 39.1 (2010): 89–95.
  3. ^ Adams, Matthew. "COMPLEX JOHN MILTON John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought. By Gordon Campbell and Thomas N. Corns. The Complete Works of John Milton, volume ii, The 1671 Poems: Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes. Edited by Laura Lunger Knoppers. Between Worlds: The Rhetorical Universe of Paradise Lost. By William Pallister." Essays in Criticism 60.2 (2010): 181–189.
  4. ^ Robson, W. W. "FR Leavis 1895–1978." The Sewanee Review 87.3 (1979): 507–514.
  5. ^ Sandison, James Macleod. "Milton and the non-orthodox reader; chiefly a study of the human elements in Eden." (M.A. thesis, The University of British Columbia, 1953.) [1]).
  6. ^ McCormick, Ian, “Graves’s Milton" in New Perspectives on Robert Graves, ed. Patrick J. Quinn (Associated University Press, 1999) 136–145, p. 144.
  7. ^ See Ian McCormick's 'Introduction' to the Carcanet edition of Antigua Penny Puce [1936] (2003).

External links[edit]