The Story of Marie Powell: Wife to Mr. Milton

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First US edition
(publ. Creative Age Press, 1944) TheStoryOfMariePowell.jpg
First US edition
(publ. Creative Age Press, 1944)

The Story of Marie Powell: Wife to Mr. Milton, by Robert Graves, 1943, is a 1943 historical novel 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 Milton.

Robert Graves English poet and novelist

Robert von Ranke Graves, known as Robert Graves, was a British poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist. His father was Alfred Perceval Graves, a celebrated Irish poet and figure in the Gaelic revival; they were both Celticists and students of Irish mythology. Graves produced more than 140 works. Graves's poems—together with his translations and innovative analysis and interpretations of the Greek myths; his memoir of his early life, including his role in World War I, Good-Bye to All That; and his speculative study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess—have never been out of print.

John Milton 17th-century English poet and civil servant

John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), written in blank verse.

Contents

In addition to Milton and Marie, real historical characters included in the story include Edmund Verney, who is depicted as Marie's true love. [1]

Sir Edmund Verney was an English soldier who fought on the Royalist side during the English Civil War.

Reception

Summarising the novel for the Carcanet edition, Simon Brittan wrote 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 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." [2]

Geoffrey Wall concluded that Graves's Wife to Mr. Milton is 'a relentlessly effective satire on masculine self-regard.' [3] 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, [... ]' [4] 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." [5]

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.' [6] 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.' [7] 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.' [8]

The 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

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

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References

  1. Patrick Grant (17 June 1979). Six Modern Authors and Problems of Belief. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 65–. ISBN   978-1-349-04615-7.
  2. See The Story of Marie Powell, Wife to Mr.Milton: AND The Isles of Unwisdom (The Millennium Graves), edited by Simon Brittan (Carcanet, 2003)
  3. Wall, Geoffrey. "Milton: Lives and Deaths." The Cambridge Quarterly 39.1 (2010): 89–95.
  4. 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.
  5. Robson, W. W. "FR Leavis 1895–1978." The Sewanee Review 87.3 (1979): 507–514.
  6. 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.) ).
  7. McCormick, Ian, “Graves’s Milton" in New Perspectives on Robert Graves, ed. Patrick J. Quinn (Associated University Press, 1999) 136–145, p. 144.
  8. See Ian McCormick's 'Introduction' to the Carcanet edition of Antigua Penny Puce [1936] (2003).