Milton and the Spiritual Reader
Reading and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England
Routledge – 2008 – 234 pages
Milton and the Spiritual Reader considers how John Milton’s later works demonstrate the intensive struggle of spiritual reading. Milton presents his own rigorous process of reading in order to instruct his readers how to advance their spiritual knowledge. Recent studies of Milton’s readers neglect this spiritual dimension and focus on politics. Since Milton considers the individual soul at least as important as the body politic, Ainsworth focuses on uncovering the spiritual characteristics of the reader Milton tries to shape through his texts. He also examines Milton’s reading practices without postulating the existence of some ideal or universal reader, and without assuming a gullible or easily manipulated reader. Milton does not simply hope for a fit audience, but writes to nurture fit readers. His works offer models of strenuous and suspicious close reading, subjecting all authors except God to the utmost of scrutiny. Milton presents Biblical interpretation as an interior struggle, a contention not between reader and text, but within that reader’s individual understanding of scripture. Ainsworth’s study rethinks the basic relationship between reading and religion in seventeenth-century England, and concludes that for Milton and his contemporaries, distinguishing divine truths in worldly texts required a spiritually guided form of close reading.
Ainsworth is concerned with the strategies that 17th-century readers employed in their search for religious understanding. A solid contribution to Milton studies. Recommended. -- B. E. Brandt, South Dakota State University, Choice
"…Ainsworth makes an important contribution to our understanding of the religious imperative of Milton’s prose and poetry…Deeply engaged with his material, Ainsworth practices the kind of reading that he elucidates in Milton’s works. His intense, concentrated focus on spiritual reading never wavers, and his precise distinctions ensure that readers will be vigorously exercised." -- Ken Simpson, Renaissance Quarterly
"Ainsworth is an astute reader of Milton"
-- Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 49, No. 1, 2009
Chapter One: "Thou art sufficient to judge aright:" Spiritual Reading in Areopagitica
Chapter Two: Spiritual Reading in Milton’s Eikonoklastes
Chapter Three: Godly Reading in Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana
Chapter Four: "There plant eyes": Spiritual Interpretation and Reading in Paradise Lost
Chapter Five: The Reader Within: Spiritual Interpretation in Paradise Regained
Chapter Six: Baxter, Fox, Winstanley and Miltonic Spiritual Reading
David Ainsworth is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama. He received his degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.