Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: "Milton in America"

Milton in America (Nan A. Talese, 1997) is Peter Ackroyd's flight of fancy about what might have happened had John Milton opted to leave England at the time of the Restoration and decamp to Puritan America. Told alternately from the perspectives of the blind Milton himself and his companion and guide Goosequill (in both flashbacks and straight narrative, and including transcripts of Milton's missives to an English friend), this novel imagines Milton becoming a sort of Puritanical dictator, enforcing strictures of religion and conduct on the settlers (who are, at first, entirely overawed by Milton's presence and happy to do as he says ... for a while).

There were interesting tidbits of historical material thrown in here and there (but not in any systematic way, and usually greatly disguised), but mostly this is Ackroyd musing, creating his own Paradise Lost and putting Milton right in the center of it. He's captured quite well the tensions between English settlers of different religious perspectives and the original inhabitants of the area.

The narrative thread was sometimes rather difficult to keep hold of, and frankly I thought the idea of this book somewhat better than how it ended up being carried off. Nonetheless, a worthy premise, and certainly it's fascinating to think about how things might have gone had Milton in fact crossed the Atlantic and made a new home on this side of the pond.

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