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Milton in America

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When Peter Ackroyd, one of Britain's undisputed literary masters, writes a new novel, it is a literary event. With his last novel, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, "as gripping and ingenious a murder mystery as you could hope to come across," in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle, he reached a whole new level of critical and popular success. Now, with his trademark blending of historical fact and fictive fancy, Ackroyd has placed the towering poet of Paradise Lost in the new Eden that is colonial America.

John Milton, aging, blind, fleeing the restoration of English monarchy and all the vain trappings that go with it ("misrule" in his estimation), comes to New England, where he is adopted by a community of fellow puritans as their leader. With his enormous powers of intellect, his command of language, and the awe the townspeople hold him in, Milton takes on absolute power. Insisting on strict and merciless application of puritan justice, he soon becomes, in his attempt at regaining paradise, as much a tyrant as the despots from whom he and his comrades have sought refuge, more brutal than the "savage" native Americans.

As always, Ackroyd has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable novel that entertains while raising provocative questions--this time about America's founding myths. With a resurgence of interest in the puritans (in the movie adaptations of The Scarlet Letter and the forthcoming The Crucible), Milton in America is particularly relevant. It is also entirely absorbing--in short, vintage Ackroyd.

From Publishers Weekly

Mar 03, 1997 – Ackroyd (Chatterton, Hawksmoor, English Music) is nothing if not daring, a novelist (and literary biographer) with a remarkable feel for classic English literature and an antic imagination. What he has supposed here is something that could have happened but didn't: the aged, blind John Milton, in disgrace for his anti-royalist sympathies at the Restoration, joins the Puritans fleeing to the New World in the middle of the 17th century. It turns out to be a remarkably fecund conceit, carried off with Ackroyd's accustomed narrative dash and fine period ear and eye. We see the blind Milton, accompanied as his "eyes" by a brash young Cockney he dubs Goosequill, boarding a boat for America, then wrecked upon the shore of what is now Rhode Island and finally coming to rest in a Puritan colony that is promptly named after him. Ackroyd's Milton is a contradictory creature. At first, he's admirably courageous and imaginative, but then, as he is surrounded by paragons of religiosity he secretly despises, he becomes increasingly rigid and intolerant. The worldly, easygoing Goosequill quickly finds common cause with the Indians, later with members of a lively neighboring Catholic community Milton abhors. In the end, the poet's bitter inflexibility leads to war. The problem with Ackroyd's vision, despite the skill with which it is set forth, is twofold: Milton as represented here could scarcely, for all his learning, have been the sweeping and compassionate poet we know; and, in some awkward narrative shifts in which Milton appears to be writing home to a kinsman, we get a thoroughly confused idea of what is happening in his mind. Is he secretly drawn to the Indians and their mysteries? Does he briefly recover his sight, only to lose it again? There are opacities here that are the more regrettable because so much of the novel is fresh and thought-provoking.
Milton in America
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  • $10.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Mar 17, 1997
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 320 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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