Milton's conception of married love: ``Fit conversation''

Hiroko Sano, University of Pennsylvania


Love is a persistent concern in Milton, both in his life and work, from early to late. He was fascinated by the sensuous imagination of the Roman elegists, the high praises of virtuous ladies by Dante and Petrarch, the ideal of chastity exemplified by Spenser, the lofty theme of Platonic love, and the Christian doctrine of love from Paul through the Puritans--a veritable history of Western ideas of love.^ Throughout his poetic career, Milton reflected his readings in his own works: he treated sensuous love in early sonnets and elegies, chastity in Comus, and married love in contrasting ways in Samson Agonistes and Paradise Lost. While formulating his conception of married love in the divorce tracts, he defined the essence of marriage as "fit conversation"--the harmony and partnership of two rational, human souls, man and woman, for mutual help, comfort, joy and love.^ Milton's ideas about woman, love and marriage have been criticized and sometimes misunderstood. They have in fact invited three kinds of charges: (1) Milton is misogynistic and patriarchal; (2) his definition of man and woman is sexist; and (3) his view of woman is culturally alien from many modern critics. However, we can exonerate him from the first charge in the light of Puritanism, from the second charge in the light of Renaissance humanism, and from the third charge in the light of fin amor-dolce stil nuovo tradition.^ I would like to propose an approach that synthesizes the three main traditions as follows. The basis of the married love that Milton upheld as an ideal is "conversation," that belongs to the sphere of emotion and sentiment as well as body and soul. He reinforced the Puritan idea of the spiritual harmony of man and wife by means of Renaissance humanism, which encouraged a mutual, equal relationship of the sexes. He further enriched the core of his Puritan ideal of marriage by means of the fin amor-dolce stil nuovo tradition, with its emphasis on the spiritual refinement of passion. Milton's contribution to the Western tradition of love poetry is indeed profound. ^

Subject Area

British & Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Sano, Hiroko, "Milton's conception of married love: ``Fit conversation''" (1989). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9015163.