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Milton In America [Paperback]

Peter Ackroyd
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 11 1997
When Peter Ackroyd, one of Britain's undisputed literary masters, writes a new novel, it is a literary event. With his last novel, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, "as gripping and ingenious a murder mystery as you could hope to come across," in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle, he reached a whole new level of critical and popular success. Now, with his trademark blending of historical fact and fictive fancy, Ackroyd has placed the towering poet of Paradise Lost in the new Eden that is colonial America.

John Milton, aging, blind, fleeing the restoration of English monarchy and all the vain trappings that go with it ("misrule" in his estimation), comes to New England, where he is adopted by a community of fellow puritans as their leader. With his enormous powers of intellect, his command of language, and the awe the townspeople hold him in, Milton takes on absolute power. Insisting on strict and merciless application of puritan justice, he soon becomes, in his attempt at regaining paradise, as much a tyrant as the despots from whom he and his comrades have sought refuge, more brutal than the "savage" native Americans.

As always, Ackroyd has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable novel that entertains while raising provocative questions--this time about America's founding myths. With a resurgence of interest in the puritans (in the movie adaptations of The Scarlet Letter and the forthcoming The Crucible), Milton in America is particularly relevant. It is also entirely absorbing--in short, vintage Ackroyd.

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From Amazon

The poet John Milton was a difficult man who lived in difficult times. A republican at the time of the restoration of Charles II to the throne, the blind Milton found himself summarily bounced from his job, tossed into prison, and threatened with execution before he was eventually released. Despite his troubles, or perhaps because of them, it was in this tumultuous time that Milton created his enduring masterpiece Paradise Lost. But what if he hadn't? What if, instead of pouring his creative energies into poetry, Milton had followed a different path, say, to America? This is the premise of Peter Akroyd's novel, Milton in America.

In Milton in America the poet flees England for the New World, where he proceeds to establish a Puritan community and to become increasingly obsessed and repressive as years go by. Milton's madness reaches a bloody climax when a group of Roman Catholics sets up a settlement nearby. Admirers of Ackroyd's previous works will find this one intriguing; admirers of the historical Milton might well be outraged by this radical revision of the great man's life. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Suppose that instead of returning his attention to the crafting of poetry upon the restoration of Charles II in 1660, John Milton had fled to New England with the idea of creating his own earthly paradise. Suppose, too, that you are among those who see Milton as a strict Puritan and domestic tyrant?a man whose sensuousness T.S. Eliot once claimed was "withered by book learning" and his blindness. Then suppose that you are an author with a reputation as an imaginative, witty storyteller (e.g., The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, LJ 5/15/95). Given such circumstances, you might very well create a novel as compelling and as entertaining as this one. Exuding moral rectitude and self-importance, Ackroyd's Milton becomes an even greater despot than the kings he professes so fervently to despise. As a result, his companions in the wilderness are forced to pay a fearful price. This tale of the dangers of self-righteous pomposity and bigotry is adroitly and wittily crafted (you have to love characters like Humility Tilly and Outspoken Mather?even if your not familiar with Colonial history) and carries with it an important message. Highly recommended for all libraries.?David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersberg, Fla.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars On Intolerance June 1 2003
Format:Paperback
"Milton in America" is another piece of historical fiction by Peter Ackroyd, in which John Milton, accompanied by the boy Goosequill, flees England in 1660 for the sanctuary of America.
Milton swiftly becomes the leading light of the Puritan settlement he (somewhat fortuitously) arrives at. The Brethren rename the settlement "New Milton" in his honour. However, tensions arise, not only between the native Americans and the Puritans, but also between the Puritans and a neighbouring group of Catholic settlers.
"Milton in America" is at times funny, ironic and tragic. The main part of the plot revolves around the irony that Milton's flight from religious persecution does nothing to stop him resurrecting religious intolerance (that is, his own) in the New World. As such, the novel is a critique both of religious intolerance and of the oppressive nature of organised religions. It's much less of an historical mystery than Ackroyd's other novels, much more of a morality tale. Very well written, entertaining and thought-provoking.
G Rodgers
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Milton is Ackroyd's March 14 2000
Format:Hardcover
I'll leave it to other reviewers to summarize the plot of this excellent novel, instead calling your attention to the significant episode when Milton disappears from his Puritan village for 6 weeks, regains his lost sight, and is welcomed as an equal when adopted by an native tribe--whose mysterious animism he, in turn, adopts. We see a great 17th-century intellect overwhelmed by a 21st-century spirituality, and we contemplate the structure of faith, intellect, history and truth. Structure is a theme, too, as again Ackroyd's modus operandi is a strand of narratives and narrators whose knot of stories are worth the reader's untying. Of course, Ackroyd's protagonist is a Milton, not the Milton; and this Milton is a doer, not a writer. As another English revolutionary, GBS's John Tanner, said, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." So the novel never mentions "Paradise Lost" because Ackroyd's Milton has come to America to regain the paradise--to 'do' paradise--rather than stagnate in Restoration London to teach about a paradise in an epic poem. To take off from Stanley Fish's title on "Paradise Lost," we are surprised by Milton's virtue when he becomes our post-Christian co-religionist. By far, this is Ackroyd's best book from the 14 novels, biographies and critical studies of his that I've read. And the best Milton I've read in a many a year.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderful book: Ackroyd at his intriguing and often ambivalent best. It is interesting from an English point of view because, after exciting and unpredictable opening chapters which deal with Milton's (fictional) flight from England to the "New World", it finally resolves into a conflict between a narrow-minded Puritan community led by a hideously bigotted Milton and a Catholic community nearby. Milton's bitter single-mindedness and ruthless determination to wipe out the "Roman Whoremaster" (Ralph Kempis) and his Catholic community is masterfully drawn by Ackroyd. The contrast he draws between a tolerant, easy-going Catholic settlement and the fanatically bigotted Puritans leave one in little doubt as to where Ackroyd's sympathies lay.
From an English point of view, particularly, it is fascinating to recall that at the period in which the book is set England had just replaced a Protestant (Puritan) Commonwealth with a Protestant Monarchy ! (Charles 2nd). Obviously, any Protestant community, even one which not many years previously had lopped off the king's head, would be preferable to the hated Catholics. Thus the New England militia were called out to support the 'bigotted' Puritans rather than the 'enlightened' Catholics. What if they'd backed the Catholics?
Altogether an excellent, intriguing, funny, moving and ultimately poignant book. Wonderfully written. Read it.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Peter Ackroyd has a frustrating habit of taking absolutely wonderful premises, such as this one, and turning them into quite dull books. Occasionally he writes wonderfully, but he appears to have no idea of human emotion, and as normal his characters here are like stilted wooden puppets.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Typical Ackroyd; brilliant premise, unremarkable book Aug. 15 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Peter Ackroyd has a frustrating habit of taking absolutely wonderful premises, such as this one, and turning them into quite dull books. Occasionally he writes wonderfully, but he appears to have no idea of human emotion, and as normal his characters here are like stilted wooden puppets.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, compelling, brilliant writing and construction. July 21 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderful book: Ackroyd at his intriguing and often ambivalent best. It is interesting from an English point of view because, after exciting and unpredictable opening chapters which deal with Milton's (fictional) flight from England to the "New World", it finally resolves into a conflict between a narrow-minded Puritan community led by a hideously bigotted Milton and a Catholic community nearby. Milton's bitter single-mindedness and ruthless determination to wipe out the "Roman Whoremaster" (Ralph Kempis) and his Catholic community is masterfully drawn by Ackroyd. The contrast he draws between a tolerant, easy-going Catholic settlement and the fanatically bigotted Puritans leave one in little doubt as to where Ackroyd's sympathies lay.
From an English point of view, particularly, it is fascinating to recall that at the period in which the book is set England had just replaced a Protestant (Puritan) Commonwealth with a Protestant Monarchy ! (Charles 2nd). Obviously, any Protestant community, even one which not many years previously had lopped off the king's head, would be preferable to the hated Catholics. Thus the New England militia were called out to support the 'bigotted' Puritans rather than the 'enlightened' Catholics. What if they'd backed the Catholics?
Altogether an excellent, intriguing, funny, moving and ultimately poignant book. Wonderfully written. Read it.
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Milton is Ackroyd's March 14 2000
By Richard Tracey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'll leave it to other reviewers to summarize the plot of this excellent novel, instead calling your attention to the significant episode when Milton disappears from his Puritan village for 6 weeks, regains his lost sight, and is welcomed as an equal when adopted by an native tribe--whose mysterious animism he, in turn, adopts. We see a great 17th-century intellect overwhelmed by a 21st-century spirituality, and we contemplate the structure of faith, intellect, history and truth. Structure is a theme, too, as again Ackroyd's modus operandi is a strand of narratives and narrators whose knot of stories are worth the reader's untying. Of course, Ackroyd's protagonist is a Milton, not the Milton; and this Milton is a doer, not a writer. As another English revolutionary, GBS's John Tanner, said, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." So the novel never mentions "Paradise Lost" because Ackroyd's Milton has come to America to regain the paradise--to `do' paradise--rather than stagnate in Restoration London to teach about a paradise in an epic poem. To take off from Stanley Fish's title on "Paradise Lost," we are surprised by Milton's virtue when he becomes our post-Christian co-religionist. By far, this is Ackroyd's best book from the 14 novels, biographies and critical studies of his that I've read. And the best Milton I've read in a many a year.
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