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Reviewed by:
  • Early Modern Nationalism and Milton's England
  • Elizabeth Jane Bellamy (bio)
David Loewenstein and Paul Stevens, editors. Early Modern Nationalism and Milton's England. University of Toronto Press. xii, 470. $80.00

This outstanding volume argues cogently that, even after nearly three decades of scholarship on early modern English nationalism, Milton's nationalism has remained a surprisingly under-investigated and intriguingly volatile rubric. In their introduction, the editors point out that, although for decades the new historicism has been eloquent on the relationship between early modern English monarchy and national self-identity, it has provided scant commentary on what the editors refer to as 'the unprecedented political and religious crises of Milton's England.' David Norbrook's landmark 1999 Writing the English Republic has definitively focused on Milton's republicanism - but at the possible expense of further probing the potential and limits of what Stevens, in his influential 2001 JEGP essay, has referred to as Milton's 'Janus-faced nationalism.' In its broadest scope, the editors' introduction warns of the difficulties of claiming that Milton's nationalism traces any kind of coherent trajectory over the course of his career: they warn, for example, against the usual impulse to conceive of Milton's 'optimistic' 1640s nationalism (such as his ambition to be a nationalist poet) that deteriorates into a 'pessimistic,' increasingly disinvested nationalism after the Restoration.

This collection of essays builds productively on one of the central points of David Loewenstein's contribution to the volume, his warning about [End Page 424] positing a monolithic Miltonic 'nationalism' at the expense of investigating the complex, conflicted, fraught web of plural Miltonic 'nationalisms.' Thus, among other things, Andrew Hadfield probes Milton's 'literary' nationalism, his turn to Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare to define a republican nationalism for the people. Warren Chernaik reassesses Milton's nationalist sentiments in revolution England, offering a valuable overview of representations of Cromwell by Milton and his contemporaries.

Several essays explore the complex relation between Milton's nationalism and the Protestant church. Achsah Guibbory investigates how the English nation shaped itself as 'elect' via analogies to biblical Israel. Andrew Escobedo investigates how Milton's nationalism deployed Congregationalist concepts of an invisible church community. Joad Raymond investigates Milton's often misunderstood figure of Saint Michael as firmly rooted in Reformation theology and a providential, Protestant national destiny. Several essays probe the consequences of the fact that, as the volume's introduction points out, Milton often felt like an expatriate in his own country. These essays investigate how his Protestant nationalism was also, more often than not, international in character. Thomas Corns focuses on the relationship between Milton's international Protestantism and European law. Victoria Kahn calls attention to Milton's defence of minority rule, also in the context of emergent discourses of international law. John Kerrigan inserts Milton within the complex cross-cultural triangle of Anglo-Dutch-Scottish relations.

Two essays productively read Milton's nationalism through a gender lens. Willy Maley investigates Milton's objections, in the History of Britain, to the early Britons' disregard of male authority, tracing Milton's nationalism as an anxious response to female (sometimes to be read as anti-clerical) rule. Laura Knoppers investigates Milton's critique of an effeminate, 'luxurious' nation - a consuming nation threatening to revive ancient Roman models of degeneration. Mary Nyquist takes on the difficult task of reading Milton's and John Locke's nationalism with and against the grain of emergent discourses of commercial slavery - and its allied rubrics of bondage (both actual and rhetorical) and the nature of political liberty. Stevens's contribution to the volume sheds light on Milton's nationalism as based not in ethnicity but rather in a civic nationalism based on notions of the public good. His essay can be productively read in tandem with Nicholas von Maltzahn's essay on how late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers appropriated Milton's blank verse for their imperial expansionist ambitions, despite Milton's own ambivalence toward imperialism.

This first-rate volume is devoted not just to the canonical Milton's poetry and prose, but rather paints a complete portrait of seventeenth-century England. The volume is a must-read not only for Miltonists, but...


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