Milton and Rossetti - Comparing Their Treatment of Women
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The Treatment of Women in John Milton's Paradise Lost
And Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"
In literary history, the theme of the apparent female inability to curb curiosity has been a reoccurring one. In Greek mythology, Psyche's curiosity proved her undoing, when she fetched a lamp to see her husband's features that had been proscribed to behold. In Perrault's "Bluebeard", the fatal effects of curiosity are again depicted, with his new bride succumbing to the temptation to open the one door that was forbidden to her, with disastrous results. It would seem that the image of `woman' through the ages is somewhat unfavourable, suggesting that she is often weak, untrustworthy and is the harbinger of ill events. There is evidence of this doctrine of thought in both Paradise Lost and "Goblin Market", and yet it is manifested in dissimilar ways, influenced greatly by the fact that one author is male, the other female. It is arguably this factor which generates such differences in tone between two pieces which thematically are similar.
Both texts concern temptation - of which in each instance is symbolised by fruit - and the moral `fall' of a female character. Yet the approach to this theme in each piece differs, being inherently influenced by the period and social contexts at the time of writing, as well as the personal values of the respective authors. In Paradise Lost the only two female characters, Sin and Eve, are portrayed in a poor light. Sin is immediately introduced as `fallen', being the daughter and lover of Satan. Initially beautiful, being ."..a goddess armed/Out of thy head I sprung..." (2:766-767), she is borne out of the head of Satan. Her enamouring beauty...
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...o Adam having to actually work for his food, and yet seems to be explained as a fair judgment by Milton. It also is the embodiment of the misogynistic reason why women should `know their place'. As a modern reader of his epic, one can see how his language and lexical style, as well as the rich soup of allusions and descriptions, adds weight to the biblical message of morality. On a more profound level, it would have effectively helped seal the fate of woman's credibility at a time of prevailing misogyny.
Harrison, A. Christina Rossetti in Context. Brighton: The Harvester Press Limited, 1988.
Marsh, J. Christina Rossetti - a Literary Biography. London: Random House, 1994.
Milton, J. Paradise Lost. Ed. S. Elledge. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 1993.
Rossetti, C. " Goblin Market." Selected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd, 1984.