To read Milton, however, you do need to know lumps of stuff about religion (specifically Puritanism) and Greek and Roman myth. An acquaintance with the politics of the Civil War also comes in handy. These things may be gripping, of course, but they have little to do with the correct appreciation of literature.
The study of English has always upset the right and the left because it seems so nebulous. You don't end up knowing any useful facts. Milton would force facts upon us and, in that way, would be nice and safe.
I would suggest Dr Marenbon adds Dickens's Hard Times to his Christmas list of improving books. Then he might realise how closely his attitude mirrors that of Thomas Gradgrind: 'You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.'
Head of English
12 DecemberReuse content