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  • Single Imperfection: Milton, Marriage and Friendship
  • Margaret J. Arnold
Thomas H. Luxon . Single Imperfection: Milton, Marriage and Friendship. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2005. xvi + 216 pp. index. $58. ISBN: 0–8207–0373–7.

Tracing Protestant Christianity's debt to principles of classical friendship, Luxon adds, "I will be focusing not only on Milton's attempt to harness classical friendship theory to the task of reforming heterosexual Christian marriage but also on what ideas and contradictions he . . . ignored or suppressed in the process" (4). [End Page 983] After a helpful discussion of friendship in, among others, Plato's Symposium and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, he reviews Milton's humanist and Protestant predecessors, who tried to reconcile classical unions of mind and spirit with the "one flesh" of biblical marriage. Milton's divorce tracts set out problems in conversation between unequal partners, while Epitaphium Damonis expresses loneliness and loss when fit companionship is broken by death or separation. Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and Paradise Regained represent for Luxon a progression in fit relationships from Adam's marital failure to Samson's recovery after divorce to the Son's self-sufficiency without a partner. He apparently finds that Milton's married characters never successfully unite bodies and souls, that imbalances occur, and that conversation between equals is absent.

Among the divorce tracts, Luxon's discussion of Colasterion especially demonstrates the barriers to meaningful conversation when the partners are unequal. Ideal conversation, he observes, takes place in a Pauline context in which its participants give allegiance to a heavenly city. His discussion of Miltonic male friendships provides a convincing context for his memorial tribute to Diodati as a profound expression of loss and loneliness for fit companionship.

Two chapters on Paradise Lost, one on Adam's understanding of manhood and a second on "wedded love," stress the importance of equality for friendship. Luxon compares Adam's conversation with Raphael, an exchange of egalitarian friendship, with his response to Eve's "more bodily" (119) preference for companionship. This subordination of Eve, although Miltonic, fails to credit her individual gifts praised by Diane McColley and Barbara Lewalski. Also, are we to consider Adam and Raphael equal conversational partners, given Raphael's role as instructor, possessor of intuitive reasoning, and participant in angelic rather than human intercourse?

For Luxon, the "wedded love" of Milton's epithalamium is merely a step toward higher, spiritual love, in no way a celebration of sexuality. Citing its link to "charities / Of Father, Son, and Brother" (4.756–57), he suggests that the nuptial scene in book 4 does not resemble "sex as we know it" (143). Accepting Raphael's analogy of growth from matter to spirit, he emphasizes the continuum by which flesh increasingly evolves into a more ethereal form. The argument is persuasive, especially in linking the mystery of wedded love to spiritual union. Yet surely wedded love and adulterous lust differ from each other.

The next chapter, tracing Samson's renewed faith and manhood, is very effective. Particularly informative are the details stressing Samson's Israelite beliefs and behavior in the context of Renaissance views of Jewishness. The ambiguity of his status as "a faithful Israelite or a carnal-minded, misbelieving Jew" (174) helps a reader understand much of the controversy regarding this work. In contrast to Dalila's defenders, Luxon justifies Samson's break with her because she fails to become his helpmeet. Samson's divorce also returns him to political effectiveness and, possibly, heavenly citizenship. Luxon again stresses a future divinely-governed universe in which there is no marriage. This idea is certainly present in Milton's [End Page 984] thought, although characters such as Raphael also call attention to immediate needs.

The final chapter, "Heroic Solitude: Paradise Regained," returns to Plato's Symposium for Pausanias's discussion of sacred and profane love. In this context Luxon effectively characterizes Satan as a figure assuming the guise, first of a potential philerast or darling in his first temptation, later reversing roles in the temptation of the cities. The Son of God in Paradise Regained overcomes Adam's "single imperfection" because he is not lonely and needs no partner to complete himself. Although the poem focuses on...


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