The Ruins of Allegory

Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention

The Ruins of Allegory

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: Published: July 1998

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In this reexamination of the allegorical dimensions of Paradise Lost, Catherine Martin presents Milton’s poem as a prophecy foretelling the end of one culture and its replacement by another. She argues that rather than merely extending the allegorical tradition as defined by Augustine, Dante, and Spenser, Milton has written a meta-allegory that stages a confrontation with an allegorical formalism that is either dead or no longer philosophically viable. By both critiquing and recasting the traditional form, Milton describes the transition to a new epoch that promises the possibility of human redemption in history.
Martin shows how Paradise Lost, written at the threshold of the enormous imaginative shift that accompanied the Protestant, scientific, and political revolutions of the seventeenth century, conforms to a prophetic baroque model of allegory similar to that outlined by Walter Benjamin. As she demonstrates, Milton’s experimentation with baroque forms radically reformulates classical epic, medieval romance, and Spenserian allegory to allow for both a naturalistic, empirically responsible understanding of the universe and for an infinite and incomprehensible God. In this way, the resulting poetic world of Paradise Lost is like Milton’s God, an allegorical “ruin” in which the divine is preserved but at the price of a loss of certainty. Also, as Martin suggests, the poem affirmatively anticipates modernity by placing the chief hope of human progress in the fully self-authored subject.
Maintaining a dialogue with a critical tradition that extends from Johnson and Coleridge to the best contemporary Milton scholarship, Martin sets Paradise Lost in both the early modern and the postmodern worlds. Ruins of Allegory will greatly interest all Milton scholars, as well as students of literary criticism and early modern studies.


“[A] learned, meditative book . . . . In the discussion of postmodernism and information theory Martin’s range is impressive . . . .” — Gordon Teskey, MLQ

“[A]n ambitious and wholly necessary attempt to align the seventeenth-century ‘world view’ with the postmodern. . . . [Martin] is to be commended for the vigor and reach of her arguments.” — James Egan, Seventeenth-Century News

“[A]n important contribution to the theory of allegory, a provocative application of science to literary analysis, and stimulating analyses of many aspects of Paradise Lost, some of which break significantly new ground.” — Mary R. Bowman, Renaissance Quarterly

“Martin’s rhetoric is fascinatingly involved . . . . The notations in the margin . . . acknowledge the richness of Martin’s book, a book that is closely packed and deeply thoughtful. It ushers a distinctive voice into Milton scholarship.” — Balachandra Rajan, Renaissance and Reformation

“Professor Martin’s work in bringing Walter Benjamin’s notion of baroque allegory to a sustained reading of Paradise Lost is certainly valuable. From it and from many of Martin’s insightful readings, scholars will take away a more nuanced understanding of Miltonic allegory and its foundations in the history of ideas.” — Jeffrey Powers-Beck, South Atlantic Review

“The book achieves real success in recognizing the need to preserve Paradise Lost’s cultural context and at the same time reading obliquely, using contemporary theoretical insights about writing and meaning to offer a better grasp of the intimations Milton had about the new language required by a new world.” — Andrew Escobedo, Milton Quarterly

“The Ruins of Allegory is a highly stimulating book, most valuable for its uncanny way of finding fresh access to the daring, experimental quality of Milton’s ground-breaking epic . . . .[A] valuable contribution to Milton studies, provoking readers to see Paradise Lost as both contemporary and canonical.” — Richard J. DuRocher, Southern Humanities Review

“Martin has written a provocative study which is sure to stimulate further debate over the nature of Milton’s uses of allegory in Paradise Lost. It will prompt critics to reconsider their assumptions about Milton and allegory” — David Loewenstein, University of Wisconsin, Madison

“With sophistication and insight, Martin provides a wholly innovative, at times brilliant, study of Miltonic allegory. Ruins of Allegory will have far-ranging effect on future analysis.” — Albert C. Labriola, Duquesne University


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Catherine Gimelli Martin is Associate Professor of English at the University of Memphis.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, Hanford Book Award (presented by the Milton Society of America)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1989-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1980-1
Publicity material