A record of a teacher’s lifelong love affair with the beauty, wit, and profundity of Paradise Lost, celebrating John Milton’s un-doctrinal, complex, and therefore deeply satisfying perception of the human condition. After surveying Milton’s recurrent struggle as a reconciler of conflicting ideals, this Primer undertakes a book-by-book reading of Paradise Lost, reviewing key features of Milton’s "various style," and why we treasure that style. Cavanagh constantly revisits Milton the singer and maker, and the artistic problems he faced in writing this almost impossible poem.
This book is emphatically for first-time readers of Milton, with little or no prior exposure, but with ambition to encounter challenging poetry. These are readers who tell you they "have always been meaning to read Paradise Lost," who seek to enjoy the epic without being overwhelmed by its daunting learning and expansive frame of reference. Avoiding the narrowly specialized focus of most Milton scholarship, Cavanagh deals forthrightly with issues that recur across generations of readers, gathering selected voices—from scholars and poets alike—from 1674 through the present.
Lively and jargon-free, this Primer makes Paradise Lost accessible and fresh, offering a credible beginning to what is a great intellectual and aesthetic adventure.
"Exactly what it sets out to be: a primer - not a companion, although I can imagine young teachers having it on their desks as they try to begin to teach undergraduates and themselves the poem's extraordinary power. A humane and useful contribution to Milton studies."~Annabel Patterson, Yale University
"Michael Cavanagh brought a lifetime of experience to his fresh, accessible, and exacting book on Milton’s Paradise Lost. His primer is both perceptive and pleasurable, or, to use Horace’s words, dulce et utile, enjoyable and instructive."~Edward Hirsch, President, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
"Those lucky enough to be introduced to Paradise Lost, as I was nearly half a century ago, by Michael Cavanagh still remember the enchantments of that classroom--as a great teacher explored the deep mysteries and surface delights of the mightiest and most exquisite of all English-language poems. Now, thanks to Scott Newstok, Michael Cavanagh’s voice mingles again with Milton’s in the pages of this superb study, a ‘primer’ destined to become a prime critical text."~Sam Tanenhaus, former editor-in-chief of The New York Times Book Review
"This primer, written by 'a captive of Milton' who has taught the poem for years, is much more than an introduction. It is a wonderful work of literary criticism and appreciation "~Mayeutica
"I expect in the next few years that this small book will become ubiquitous — on every reading list, in every library, and, if we are teaching Paradise Lost (and perhaps even if not), on all of our desks.... what Cavanagh does so well is to set out the pleasures of working through the puzzles, and to illustrate the delights to be encountered on the way.... a book that does something better than any introductory text I have encountered: it allows the reader to enter into the joy of reading this poem. It is an extraordinary legacy."~Milton Quarterly