Abby is a sophomore with an IR major and a super cool minor in Hip-Hop Dance. She comes from Indiana and loves to brag about surviving the harsh winters there, but is waking up at 6 AM to shovel snow really something to brag about? Running is her biggest passion because she lacks the coordination needed for any other sports, and it’s the only thing that gets rid of all of her extra energy. She hopes to graduate a year early and pursue a Masters in International Relations at the University of Cologne (which is not an academy of men’s fragrances). Hopefully, she will have access to a kitchen there, because she deals with frustration by aggressively baking cookies. Abby believes that her experiences in a sorority have prepared her not only for the professional world, but also for any fashion emergencies she suffers on her way to her job interviews.
John Milton’s Paradise Lost seemingly depicts Adam and Eve as the perfect couple, but this immaculate image is only due to inaccurate artistic depictions of their relationship. The source: inequality. John Milton’s Paradise Lost explores their Fall as that of a subtly unequal, but happy couple led to ruin by Satan and sin. Illustrations of the epic tell a very different story, showing very grandiose, balanced images of the couple as if their Fall was one event, wherein Eve is to blame for the act and Adam is at fault for letting her out of his sight. Milton stirred up considerable controversy with the poem’s hopeful tone of the couple’s expulsion (felix culpa– the fortunate fall), to the extent that most illustrators ignore it and opt for more orthodox portrayals. The differences between Milton’s actual poem and its illustrations are drastic and common among many illustrators. Thus, I will contend that certain moments in the work would have been revolting and controversial if accurately depicted. Also, illustrators may have felt compelled to make the poem more approachable to readers. In general, illustrators rarely portray the nuances in Adam and Eve’s inherently troubled relationship, marginalizing some of the epic’s most important themes for the sake of maintaining masculinity and propriety.
I’ll begin by describing the couple’s strained and inherently complicated relationship in detail, establishing that it is not actually idyllic. Eve only exists because Adam asked for a companion, automatically designating her as an object meant for Adam’s satisfaction. During his request, he tells God, “No need that thou/ should propagate, already infinite” by way of justifying why he needs an Eve, essentially admitting that he only requires her for building the human race (VIII. 419-20). One could counter that this point is legitimate because the lineage must be continued, but Adam is still immortal and has not yet been tasked with populating the earth. Therefore, he only values Eve as a sex object, which is problematic when one notes that Eve is frequently described as a “Virgin Majestie” (IX 270) with “innocence, and virgin modesty” (VIII 501). This double standard reveals that Adam fails to understand Eve and thus cannot fulfill her needs. Furthermore, their vocabularies imply a nonconsensual relationship, and as a rapist, Adam would fail to understand Eve. Her words often allude to rape, especially in her narration of the couple’s first encounter, wherein she says, “With that thy gentle hand/Seized mine: I yielded” (IV. 486-7). The idea of gentle rape expounds upon one of the poem’s general projects: applying uncomfortable adjectives to idyllic descriptions, usually involving Eve. Adam and the narrator praise her for “meek surrender” and “submissive charms”, implying that female consent is unnecessary and combining rape with the qualities of the perfect woman (IV. 492, 6). Adam is fully satisfied with Eve, so that even her dissatisfaction is depicted as a positive aspect; “sweet, reluctant, amorous delay” colors Eve’s hesitancy much more brightly by placing romantic words alongside worrisome ones (IV. 309). The two create an unequal pairing because Adam is fully satisfied by Eve, but she cannot feel the same about him due to her subjugation, which she must find suffocating and unpleasant despite the narrator’s attempts to romanticize it. This inequality was not an intentional construct, even though Adam and the narrator reaffirm it so frequently. At first, Adam desired an equal counterpart, the “other half” that Milton believes constituted an ideal wife.
Most visual representations fit Adam’s first description of his ideal relationship. Adam tells God that he seeks to rectify his “single imperfection” with “collateral love, and dearest amity”, arguing that he is incomplete alone (VIII. 423, 426). The pairing Adam desires represents equality. Therefore, he asks, “Among unequals what society/ Can sort, what harmony or true delight?” (VIII 383-4). Artists also seem to prefer depicting the couple together, implying that they are flawed while apart. The neoclassical movement during the 17- and 1800s championed symmetry and proportioned use of space, seen in most of the images in the appendix. Adam and Eve can provide such visual balance, but to paint only Eve would imply that she alone is balanced. Although Adam calls Eve “in herself complete” (VIII 548), Raphael quickly reminds him that Eve was “Made so adorn for thy delight the more” (VIII 574). Even in scenes when Eve is alone, artists often choose to add Adam to the image to achieve balance and avoid the implication that Eve, with all of her flaws and feminine inadequacies, is balanced enough by herself.
Images 7 and 10 are altered in this manner, showing Adam present during Eve’s creation. This presence emphasizes Eve’s accessory status and reinforces the misogyny of the illustrators. Image 7 inaccurately portrays Eve alongside God, upright and with hands clasped in prayer. Meanwhile, Adam lies across the bottom of the frame, head tilted upward as if he is dreaming the scene above him. God, his outstretched arm, Eve, and Adam create an even rectangle, which William Blake deliberately painted to achieve symmetry. In contrast, John Martin strays little from the epic in image 16, wherein Eve gazes upon herself “with answering looks of sympathy and love” (IV 462-3). However, Eve is not the focus of Martin’s image; like the rest of his illustrations of Paradise Lost, the focus is meant to be the comparison between sweeping vistas and insignificant Man. Most artists focus directly on Adam and Eve, and include Adam for visual balance. Illustrators made a deliberate artistic choice to change the story to conform to conservative, misogynistic norms. In particular, they represent marriage in its most traditional, male-dominated form to suppress the poem’s ideas of feminine independence and integrity. Martin does not attempt to reconcile societal norms with the poem’s representation of marriage, so his images are not representative of general artistic impressions. Another orthodox illustrator, William Strang, uses a method similar to Blake’s in image 10, forming a strong right angle between incorporeal Eve and prostrate Adam, with trees in the background to further emphasize the image’s visual strength. Again, such strength emphasizes the dominance of conventional patriarchal marriage just as “he [Adam] for God only, she [Eve] for God in him” implies severe inequality and feminine weakness (IV. 297). While these images provide strong evidence to show that artists are reluctant to create a visually complete representation of Eve alone, artists stray even further from the epic in the infamous Temptation scene.
The Temptation is the other most significant instance of Eve’s solitude. Even in the epic, Adam warns against separation, arguing that Satan “seeks to work us woe and shame…with greedy hope to find…us asunder” (IX 255, 257-8). Eve reasons with Adam until allowed to part from him, emphasizing her intelligence but shifting more responsibility to her when she does eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Interestingly, illustrators rarely choose to depict the Temptation according to the epic, instead choosing to insert Adam into the scene (see images 13 and 15). A portrait of only Eve, nor Eve and the Serpent, would have to be visually balanced and thus advance the idea “that what seemed fair in all the world seemed now/ Mean, or in her summed up” (VIII 471-2). In other words, such a portrait would show that Eve alone represents everything in balance, leaving nothing important out of the picture. Just as Raphael disagrees, so do the illustrators. William Blake attempts to awkwardly reconcile the epic’s version and his own in image 13, displaying Adam with his back turned as Eve takes the fruit from the Serpent’s mouth. The image is well balanced: Adam and Eve stand to either side with the tree in the center. Blake also portrays Eve eating the fruit directly from the serpent’s mouth, thus broadening her sins to include bestiality and reducing any sympathy the observer may have for her. He conforms to orthodoxy by shifting blame entirely on Eve, even though she is oppressed until in a compromised mental state in the poem. Gustav Doré also includes Adam in his interpretation (image 15). Here, the two are not equal in size, nor are they symmetrical, but Doré places them very close to each other, directly in the center of the image, with the Serpent in the foreground. Adam watches Eve calmly in a significant change from the epic, wherein the two hurriedly seek each other out. This depiction seems to imply that Adam is disappointed in Eve, reinforcing his patriarchal role. Thus, the image is complete due to its representation of a parent-child relationship, however misogynistic that might be. None of these representations align with the poem’s version of events, and since they are illustrations created for it, this discrepancy reveals the artists’ inherent sexism.
Some artists choose to denounce femininity even more by changing Eve’s appearance from what is described in the poem. Milton tells us that Eve is “soft” (IV. 296) and has a “slender waist” (IV. 302), but artists like William Blake (image 7) and William Strang (images 10 and 11) portray her with a thick, muscled waist. Although many illustrators do retain her feminine physicality, Blake and Strang do not, marginalizing the female body. By removing her physical femininity, the illustrators also reduce the femininity in her actions and reinforce the misogynistic idea that the male appearance is most “normal”.
Countless critics have accused Paradise Lost and John Milton of misogyny, but his misogyny does not compare in severity to that of the poem’s illustrators. Their blatant marginalization and criticism of the feminine has sullied the reputation of the poem itself even though most portrayals of the feminine are inaccurate and not true to the poem’s descriptions. For example, John Martin’s image 7b shows Eve at Adam’s feet; not daring to look at him, she holds out her hands in supplication while his hand is raised as if about to strike her. However, the poem says that Adam
Astonied stood and Blank, while horror chill [ 890 ]
Ran through his veins, and all his joynts relax’d;
From his slack hand the Garland wreath’d for Eve
Down drop’d (IX. 890-3).
Essentially, Adam is slack-jawed and shocked at Eve’s transgression, but not once angry. The language of the passage is evocative of cold, bare rocks to contrast with the lush color of Eden. “Astonied”, “Blank”, and “horror chill” all contrast the fiery anger shown in Martin’s image. This meaningful writing begets the question of why Martin would then choose to defy the poem, when Adam’s real reactions already have so much thematic significance. Eve is in an obvious pose of female weakness and Adam is the epitome of male dominance, so the image aligns with the orthodox constraints of the artist’s time. These constraints exert more powerful influence than does maintaining authenticity, even though the resulting illustration corrupts the poem’s intended message.
Although felix culpa was a powerful movement in Christianity for some time, it never prevailed over traditionally negative perceptions of Man’s Fall. Thus, Paradise Lost’s illustrators were strongly opposed to granting Eve solitude or wholeness in any visualizations, even if this meant drastically altering scenes. The quantity of work following this theme is at a level that changes popular understanding of the poem’s meaning from a heterodox argument for female self-determinism and optimism to a propaganda piece on traditional husband and wife roles. Illustrators include Adam in many scenes wherein Eve is actually alone and also draw Eve with feminine traits removed so that she is visually similar to Adam. These deliberate artistic choices result in severe repression of any female presence and thus advocate for ignoring female empowerment in the poem. Overall, illustrators have changed the poem’s outward appearance and obscured its themes to maintain less controversial, but extremely sexist, claims.
Appendix of Images
Michael Burgesse after anon. [the engraver?], illustration to Book XII of ‘Paradise Lost’ (1688)
Michael Burgesse after anon. [the engraver?], illustration to Book XII of ‘Paradise Lost’ (1688)
Francesco Zucchi, illustration to Book IX (1742)
Charles Grignon after Francis Hayman, illustration to Book IX of ‘Paradise Lost’ (1749)
Charles Grignon after Francis Hayman, illustration to Book XI of ‘Paradise Lost’ (1749)
Simon Francois Ravenet after Francis Hayman, illustration to Book XII of ‘Paradise Lost’ (1749)
THE CREATION OF EVE: ‘Under his forming hands a creature grew, | Manlike, but different sex, so lovely fair’ (VIII.470) William Blake, 1808
Book X.863: Adam Reproving Eve, John Martin, 182
‘To whom the winged Hierarch replied: | O Adam, one Almighty is, from whom | All things proceed’ (V.468-70), Gustav Dore, 1866
‘Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon’ (XII.645), Gustav Dore, 1866
Book VIII. The Creation of Eve, William Strang, 1896
THE TEMPTATION OF EVE: ‘her rash hand in evil hour | Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate: | Earth felt the wound’ (IX.780) William Blake, 1808
Book V.519: Raphael Conversing with Adam and Eve, John Martin 1827
‘Back to the thicket slunk | The guilty serpent’ (IX.784-85) Gustav Doré 1866
Book IV.455: Eve at the Fountain John Martin 1827