Review by Publisher's Weekly 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Rich, often laudatory biography of the creator of Paradise Lost. John Milton's life (1608-74) encompassed one of the most turbulent periods in English history, notes Beer (Literature/Oxford Univ.; My Just Desire: The Life of Bess Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter, 2003, etc.). A civil war, a beheaded king, a democracy that turned into dictatorship, a restoration of royalty, plague and the Great Fire are among the events that shaped his destiny. Beer's Milton emerges as a courageous, often wildly incautious republican whose life was more than once in jeopardy, though he was merely jailed while heads of his allies rolled. He was also a classical scholar nonpareil, one of the first political pamphleteers and, of course, a master of blank verse and of just about every other poetical form he attempted. Beer often digresses from the chronological narrative to examine such material as street life in Milton's native London, his attitudes toward women's education, his participation in the theological and political debates of the day and the titillating question of whether the revered author of a great religious poem at any point in his life "turn'd pure Italian" (i.e., had homosexual affairs). Readers will surely wince at her horrific account of contemporary medical practices, which did little to help Milton when he began going blind in 1644, or during his final torments from renal failure. Not wanting to try the patience of general readers by venturing too far into the deep end of prosody's pool, the author tends to praise more than analyze, and she occasionally offers block quotations from sources identified only in the end notes. Still, Beer takes us on an educative and often inspiring journey through Milton's life and major works, dealing as best she can with the paucity of personal information (no family letters survive) and careful to note when she is speculating and when she is not. A well-researched, graceful account of the life of a literary giant. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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