Eve Essay, Research Paper
Anne Ferry s Milton s Creation of Eve
A significant amount of debate and criticism in the last few decades has
focused its attention on Milton s attitude toward women, most specifically Eve in
Milton s Paradise Lost. Is Milton a misogynist or a radical defender of women? One
seems to think he does a little bit of both on occasion, contradicting himself. In Anne
Ferry s , Milton s Creation of Eve, she believes that Milton depicts Eve not merely as
Adam s helpmeet, but as an equal companion in Paradise. Ferry elaborates on Milton s
resisting the perpetuating traditional view of Eve as merely Adam s inferior possession.
Instead, on occasion, Milton portrays Eve as independent and highly individual.
Ferry states that, [i]n his presentation of Eve and her marriage to Adam, then, we
have to think about what was dictated by Milton by their story in Genesis and its
interpretations in the New Testament, how he shaped what he could not change, what
decisions he made where some choices were allowed him (113). Eve was not only
created from Adam, but for him according to God in Genesis. God even stated, It is not
good that the man shulde be him selfe alone: I will make an helpe meet for him (Genesis
2:18). Ferry then acknowledges the Bible, in the second chapter of Genesis, stating that
since Eve came from a man, she will now be called a woman. As the saying goes, “flesh
of my flesh, blood of my blood”. From this origin the bonds of holy matrimony were
Ferry next illustrates the view of women according to Saints Peter and Paul, with
the preacher, John Donne, in contrast s to Milton s view. Their view is that women are a
weaker vessel, which should subject themselves to their husbands as a congregation
would subject itself unto Christ in a church. Milton relies heavily upon the events in
Genesis as necessary materials for his own interpretations of Eve s creation, and to define
her nature and place as distinct from Adam s. Milton expresses his view by stating, “Hee
for God only, shee for God in him (Paradise Lost IV.299). It seems that her station in
life as a weaker creature is expressed in Paradise Lost by comparing of her curls to a
vine, which seems to imply subjection. Ferry believes that, Eve s subjection has its own
authority to require gentleness (117). Ferry notes that, [b]y contrast with Donne s [and
the Saints Peter and Paul view of an] archetypal wife-weaker vessel, temptress,
dispensable staff or rib-Milton s Eve is first introduced as a regal figure sharing with
Adam in Majestie signifying their joint position as Lords of All (118)”. [N]ot as
Donne says, as [an] expendable staff to which any man would prefer his own legs [but] as
an individual solace dear (Ferry 119).
What Adam wants in a mate, God brings to him in Eve-where they can have a
society of fellowship, conversation , communication, and a community. This kind of
union cannot take place, they say, between unequals, but only between human beings
being both made in the image of God and therefore fit to participate in All rational
delight (Ferry 120)”. Milton makes many efforts to work with what the New Testament
states and around the facts that are illustrated in Genesis.
Ferry notes that “[a]s in Genesis, Adam finds no fit consort among the creatures
presented to him, for reasons which Milton allows him to elaborate:
Among unequals what socitie
Can sort, what harmonie or true delight?
Of fellowship I speak
Such as I seek, fit to participate
All rational delight, wherein the brute
Cannot be human consort.
Ferry then states, “[w]hat Adam wants in a mate God brings him
in Eve”(119-20). Ferry notes that, [t]he passages from Paradise Lost discussed up to
this point, show consistent efforts by Milton to acknowledge scriptural definitions of
woman s nature and place, while elevating Eve above them to a stature that would make
her a fit companion for Adam in marital conversation (122). The marriage of Adam and
Eve becomes the fulfillment of an ideal human experience, with its ups and most
particularly its downs. Milton elevates Eve s spiritual dignity above that of Adam s. She
feels that she has sinned more gravely than Adam and offers to sacrifice herself for
Adam, so that he won t be damned. (Adam had previously blamed Eve for his sin).
Thus, Eve has been made Adam s spiritual superior: Milton has been in a sense her
defender from her first introduction, making repeated efforts to rescue her from the place
assigned to woman s nature [and place] on inescapable biblical authority (Ferry 129).
Ferry concludes that Eve, “is also described by the poet [Milton] in less declarative terms,
in more figurative, pictorial, musical language, than Adam, qualities which characterize
her own mellifluous, arguments.
What these patterns suggest is that Eve is associated those powers of the soul that belong
especially to poetry, with imagination, sensation, and feeling. That association may
suggest a reason why she is the poet’s chosen instrument in man’s redemption” (130).
For the most part, one tends to agree with Ferry on many points concerning
Milton s view of Eve. On the other hand, one finds that Milton contradicts himself on
occasion, but believed that he is truly trying to please all and offend none. For this, he
must be given some form of Kudos for making an effort in a time (reign of Charles II
in England) where women were not thought highly of-certainly not as equals . Yet,
Ferry’s method of proof that Milton is very much in support of women is indeed very
well stated throughout the entire paper.
Ferry, Anne. Milton s Creation of Eve . Studies in English Literature, 1500-
1900. 28 (1988): 113-132.