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Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
In Milton studies, there is an underlying assumption that Milton did not engage with his contemporaries. When we think about the motivations behind Paradise Lost, we first think of Milton’s poetic ambition to write the first English epic, and second the subject of creation and the fall of mankind, which is wholly disconnected from the present time. In neither case do we connect the poem to Milton’s historical context. I argue that Milton was living in a literary world composed of Classical authors and his peers that had seen important meditations on what a garden can and should be. Milton was also living in a time of emerging awareness about how human actions can both endanger and be influenced by nature. In this paper, I use Milton’s vision of paradise as filter to explore the environmental anxieties of early modern London. I will re-situate Paradise Lost in the context of Milton’s time and place – early modern London – in order to explore the relationship between Eden and real gardens for English people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By weaving the thread of literary tradition with the thread of Milton’s contemporary experiences, we will see Milton’s reformist attitudes towards work and nature. In fact, Milton’s Eden is a response to the emerging urban and environmental problems of his time – overpopulation, air pollution, rapid urbanization – and an enlightening study on how gardens can influence labor and sexual relations.