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Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (review)
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Reviewed by
Picciotto, Joanna. Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010. 880 pp.

Labors of Innocence superbly investigates how seventeenth-century thinkers appropriated an innocent Adam as an intellectual model to understand experimentalist science, intellectual labor, and the creation of a public sphere. Picciotto situates her work at the intersections of science and literature and traces the development of this relationship in early modern England. Along the way she explains how these thinkers transformed curiosity—originally accepted as a vice resulting from original sin—into a virtue, reimagined labor as a way to overcome the Fall instead of a punishment for it, and separated innocence from ignorance by associating it with epistemological objectivity. After tracking “an ethic of imitatio Adami” across multiple disciplines, Picciotto convincingly asserts that intellectuals used this Adam as an model to understand paradise and the concept of objectivity, and “according to this ethos, it is by performing the work of defamiliarization that contemplation becomes productive, [End Page 61] a means of working on and transforming the world” (2).

Picciotto divides her work into two parts, centering the first, “Contexts,” within the discourse of imitatio Adami. Chapter 1, for instance, addresses issues surrounding typological representations of the prelapsarian self, the hortus conclusus, and the doctrine of the felix cupa. She focuses on how the prehistory of Adam, the garden, and the trial shaped various facets of social, religious and political imaginations, but primarily figured only in intellectual life before 1660. However, by the late seventeenth-century, the “delving Adam” had become a “specifically intellectual laborer” and the “mystical body… public” (40). Picciotto further suggests that paradise and purgatory were released concurrently into the world, and she explains how “the effort to restore creation as a commons of knowledge production, an open field in which innocent curiosity could assert itself, and evolve, converted the hortus conclusus into a purgatorial paradise of pains” (40).

The rest of part I follows the development of the early modern scientific community throughout the Civil War, Interregnum, and Restoration. Chapter 2 explains the founding of the Royal Society of London (1660) and its production of a “new kind of gentleman,” or “virtuoso,” who was the “product of a distinctly Adamic ideal of representativeness” (131). Chapter 3 posits the “literary lens” as a key metaphor for Picciotto’s discussion since it was an “instrument of empirical demystification… applied to the fallen world” and served as a kind of “tool with which to excavate the material causes of the visible and open the world up to new kinds of cultivation” (16, 188–89). Finally, chapter 4 links the new concept of the public person with “the emergence of a curious public” which survived the Interregnum and helped create a public space that promoted the spirit of curiosity (257).

After establishing these contexts, Picciotto turns to specific literary texts in part II. She “documents how the experimentalist effort to bring together thoughts and acts, words and things, influenced intellectuals who worked exclusively with words” as she digs deeper into the relationship between science and early modern literature (13). Chapter 5 further investigates how the lens became an inescapable metaphor in Restoration poetry and criticism in texts such as William Davenant’s Gondibert (1650), Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665), Andrew Marvell’s The Last Instructions to a Painter (1667), and John Dryden’s As Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1668).

Chapter 6, “Milton and the Paradizable Reader,” amply treats Milton. It is the penultimate chapter of Picciotto’s scholarship and is perhaps the most significant contribution to an already impressive project. She compares Milton to other experimentalists who “turned Bacon’s paradise of exercise and experiment into a working model for their own activities” and “restored the first man as a corporate producer of knowledge” (401). Thus, Picciotto argues that, for Milton, “the recovery of paradise and the reformation of public life were not separate things: to release paradise from its idolatrous identification with the first garden was to create the conditions for the emergence of a productive public” (401). Such was the project at work across all of Milton’s oeuvre. He “applied the principle of imitatio Adami as universally as...