Fallenness and Gender in ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘The Monk’ and ‘Lamia’ – Part Two

The establishment that Fallenness is attached exclusively to the female sex becomes more difficult to uphold when interrogating the texts more deeply, as men exhibit Fallenness like their female counterparts. Ambrosio recognises that he is currently in the ‘period of life when passions are most vigorous, unbridled, and despotic.’[1] This list of three emphasises the uncontrollable and tyrannical nature of Ambrosio’s sexuality, which is already present before he is tempted by Matilda. He recognises the frail nature of man, which in his mind is ‘prone to error.’[2] Ambrosio displays psychological Fallenness before he enters into sexual sin with Matilda.

Ambrosio is tempted by Matilda in a garden, where he is bitten by a ‘serpent.’[3] Matilda in the role of tempter and the presence of the snake alludes back to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and places Ambrosio in the role of Eve, as it is he who is being tempted. Peter Grudin pushes the comparison of Ambrosio and Eve further by arguing that, like Eve, Ambrosio does not understand the consequences of his Fall, as he does not understand the ‘true nature of his tempter.’[4] Ambrosio and Eve’s lack of understanding about Matilda and Satan respectively means that they are oblivious to the questionable intentions of Matilda and Satan. Ambrosio’s ability to be manipulated, and to become passive to Matilda’s advances transforms his masculinity into effeminacy, which further aligns him with the feminine figure of Eve.[5]  Ambrosio displays a similar sexual and psychological Fallenness to that of Eve, meaning that he is just as Fallen as she is.

In creating Eve, Adam asks for ‘thy other self,’ (VIII. 450) implying that he wishes for his partner to be a mirror of himself. One way in which Adam and Eve display equality is in their unanimous lack of knowledge before the Fall. Like Eve, Adam recalls that he does not know what death is, only seeing it as ‘some dreadful thing’ (IV. 426). Eve’s lack of understanding of this concept allows her to be manipulated by Satan, and, as her and Adam have been created equal in Adam’s eyes, it is conceivable to think that Satan could have manipulated Adam using the same concept. As Eve’s lack of knowledge results in the Fall of Man, why would Adam’s lack of knowledge not result in the same consequence?

As previously discussed, following Eve’s eating from the Tree, Adam indulges in her sexual desires and Fallenness with her. Although Eve is portrayed as the instigator of this act, it should be pointed out that Adam himself ‘on Eve Began to cast lascivious Eyes, she him As wantonly repaid’ (IX. 1015). It is Adam who encourages this immoral sexual activity; Eve merely reciprocates his desires and his actions. Here Eve is criticised for her own sexual Fallenness, and yet Adam displays an equal Fallenness and role in their ‘amorous play’ (IX. 1045).

After the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Archangel Michael reminds Adam that ‘From Mans effeminate slackness it begins’ (XI. 634). It is Adam’s defence, crafted by Milton, which states that Adam’s susceptibly to Eve’s ‘female charm’ (IX. 999) and his failure to control her growing independence is what resulted in the Fall. It is Michael’s view that Adam was the superior of the couple but became the inferior when he lost control of Eve and failed to stop her from eating from the Tree. Although this argument still acknowledges, and endorses, the fault of Eve, it does still make the point that, although Adam was blinded by Eve’s beauty, he did not act in any way to prevent her actions, and by extension the Fall of Man, assigning him responsibility for it.

Despite their own Fallenness, both Ambrosio and Adam misogynistically blame their female counterparts for own their transgressions. Milton describes that Adam is enamoured by Eve’s ‘Beauty and submissive charms’ (IX. 498). The inclusion of ‘submissive’ implies that Eve’s beauty is not attractive to Adam unless it is combined with her submission to him, as this reinforces the patriarchal relationship between the two. Following the Fall, Adam declares Eve ‘ingrateful,’ (IX. 1164) and chastises her as, because of her discretion, he too must leave the Garden of Eden. It is after the Fall that Adam’s patriarchy transforms into misogyny, as he solely blames Eve for their expulsion from Eden, a view that is affirmed by Milton.[6]

In his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643) Milton reduces the role of wife to that of the ‘meet help,’ and her failure to fulfil this role implies her failure as a wife.[7] Milton, articulates these views through Eve, who declares that:

‘Him who worth in Women overtrusting,

Lets her Will rule; restraint she will not brook,

And left to herself, if evil thence ensue,

She first his weak indulgence will accuse’ (IX. 1183-1186).

Milton asserts that those who trust women will suffer for it, as women cannot restrain themselves in the presence of evil. This mirrors the popular cultural belief that women were the cause of the Fall, a view that Milton seems to adhere to.[8] Mary Wollstonecraft attacked Milton for his depiction of Eve, and by extension womankind, saying that through Eve he tries to ‘gratify the senses of man.’[9] Wollstonecraft suggested that Milton’s Eve is only present to play to male misogynistic perceptions of women at the time. This view has since been criticised as reductive however, as an emerging body of female scholarship argued against popular misogyny.

In his work, Feminist Milton, Joseph Wittreich argued that women became increasingly suspicious of the male critical discourse, prompting them to view Milton in an alternative light.[10] These emerging views opined that Milton’s invocation of traditional gender ideas were only present as he was ‘bringing them under review and subjecting them to challenge.’[11] The act of ‘Falling’ should also be critiqued, as in the Romantic sense, it has been attached to the emergence of knowledge, ‘consciousness and imagination.’[12] By pairing Milton’s perceived advocation for female rights and the Romantic view of the Fall, Eve’s desire to ‘feed at once both Bodie and Mind?’ (IX. 779) should be seen as commendable, as Eve embarks on an individual quest for knowledge. This quest for independence and knowledge aligns Eve with the Romantic image of Satan, but ironically, it is the latter who is celebrated despite their equal aspirations.[13] Despite the immediate negative consequences of the expulsion from Eden, the long term effects are more positive, as Eve imparts knowledge to mankind. This thinking acknowledges that Eve’s actions occurred for the better, prompting Wittreich to assert that Milton was encouraging ‘women’s liberation.’[14] This view is interesting as on the surface, Milton appears to support popular misogyny. It is only when looking deeper into the text that a ‘feminist Milton’ seems to emerge. Much like the text, Wollstonecraft herself offered two views on Eve, praising the ‘paradisiacal happiness’ of Adam and Eve, as representative of an ideal marriage. Despite the intense debate that surrounds the text, within its pages, unfortunately Eve is incorrectly labelled as being solely responsible for bringing sin into the world.

The misogyny that Adam displays is also present in Ambrosio. After Ambrosio rapes Antonia, he blames her for his own sins, asking her ‘Was it not thy beauty? Have you not plunged my soul into infamy?’[15] Antonia, or her beauty, cannot be held accountable for Ambrosio’s Fall as she herself was assaulted by Ambrosio. For her role, Ambrosio likens Matilda to a ‘Syren,’ a mythical creature that lures men to their deaths.[16] Unlike Eve and Antonia, when Matilda is reprimanded by Ambrosio for her role in his Fall, she does not accept full responsibility and instead encourages him to accept that he is Fallen. Matilda asks Ambrosio if she herself has not ‘shared in your guilt? Have you not shared in my pleasure?’[17] The italicisations emphasise Matilda’s opinion that both her and Ambrosio are responsible for their giving in to temptation, a view that he does not accept. Ambrosio continues to blame Matilda, declaring that she ‘roused’ his dormant desires.[18] Matilda’s defence appears to incorporate some of the debate that ensued around Paradise Lost, and may imply the latter’s impact on wider society. The female assertion that women should not be fully blamed for the Fall, both inside and outside of the texts, leads to the conclusion that Fallenness cannot be attributed to one specific sex, making it an ambiguous, ‘sexless’ concept. This is better communicated and explored in Keats’s poem Lamia.

In the poem, Lamia first tempts Lycius with the ‘words she sung’ (l. 249).[19]  The mythical creature of Lamia here is likened to a siren, as was Matilda, because Lamia actively seduces Lycius. Upon seeing her, he ‘drank her beauty up, Leaving no drop in the bewildering cup’ (I. ll. 251-252). The power Lamia draws, and exudes, from her endless beauty can also be likened to the powerful beauty of Eve. Although Lamia catches the attention of Lycius, he greedily enjoys and consumes her beauty for his own pleasure. The two then live together in ‘sweet sin’ (II. I. 31). This sin is not attributed to one character alone, and both actors partake in the relationship equally. At the end of Lamia, Lycius dies and Lamia vanishes (II. I. 305-311). Both characters are seen to suffer for their part in the relationship. This Fall occurs due to the intense devotion Lamia and Lycius have for each other, and in this respect, the poem appears to make general comment about the dangers of all-consuming relationships, one that should be heeded by the characters in the works of Milton and Lewis. The ambiguities present in these texts reflect the debates, and eventual conclusion, that Fallenness is sexless.

With the conclusion that Fallenness transcends sex and the cultural construct of gender, it is conceivable to think that Fallenness transcends humanity altogether. When Milton introduces Eve it is made clear that ‘Satan still in gaze’ (IV. 356) is present. Dobranski argued that here, Satan’s gaze was ‘contaminating’ Eve with Fallenness.[20] The present tense of the word implies that Satan’s corruption of Eve was constant and ongoing. The idea is explored more explicitly later, as Satan exploits Eve’s confusion and gains her trust through ‘flattery,’ (IX. 11) an act which ‘induces’ (IX. 18) her to eat from the Tree. Although to Adam, and endorsers of popular misogyny, Eve’s Fall is inevitable and of her own doing, the presence of Satan, and her manipulation by him, should not be ignored. It is also Apollonius’ gaze, much like Satan’s, which causes the downfall of Lamia and subsequently Lycius (II. I. 258).

Satan plays a similar role in The Monk, as it is revealed that He directly targeted Ambrosio and placed Matilda in his ‘way.’[21] Satan was the architect of Ambrosio’s Fall, and as Matilda acted as Satan’s puppet, her role is negated and attributed to him. Satan declares to Ambrosio that ‘I saw your artifice, knew its falsity, and rejoiced in deceiving the deceiver!’[22] Although Satan concedes that Ambrosio was psychologically Fallen before his intervention, without the presence of Matilda, as engineered by Satan, Ambrosio’s Fall may not have occurred, as before the presence of Matilda, Ambrosio did resist temptation. In the above cases, external actors directly manipulate the concept of Fallenness to induce the Fall of others for their own agenda, placing the concept of Fallenness out of the control of the humans who Fall.

Fallenness is a difficult concept to define. Writers during the Romantic period defined it through its exclusive attachment to the female sex. I have demonstrated how the physical and psychological characteristics of Eve and Matilda imply their inherent Fallenness, and also explored how, ironically, their male counterparts are equally Fallen. Adam and Ambrosio’s Fallenness, and their subsequent denial of this, mirrored popular misogynist attitudes which, as in the texts, attributed Fallenness exclusively to the female sex. In response, an emerging body of female scholarship vindicated the actions of Eve, rendering Fallenness as an ambiguous, sexless force. This ambiguity is explored in Lamia, in which the title character and her lover appear as equally culpable for their own destruction. However, the intervention of external actors such as Satan and Apollonius render the other characters powerless, placing Fallenness on a higher pedestal as an external, sexless force that transcends the humans that it directly affects. Perhaps Milton should have blamed not man for our ‘first disobedience,’ but blamed the creator, and creation, of the concept of Fallenness.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Ibid., p. 18.

[2] Ibid., p. 32.

[3] Ibid., p. 56.

[4] Peter Grudin, ‘“The Monk”: Matilda and the Rhetoric of Deceit’, The Journal of Narrative Technique Vol. 5, No. 2 (1975), p. 142.

[5] E. J. Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 103.

[6] Wittreich, Feminist Milton, p. 95.

[7] John Milton, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce in Complete Prose and Essential Prose of John Milton, ed. by W. Kerrigan, J. Rumrich and S. M. Fallon, (New York: Modern Library Inc, 2007), p. 854.

[8] Walker, Milton and the idea of woman, p. 16.

[9] Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects’, in Romanticism and Revolution: A Reader, ed. by Mee and Fallon, (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) p. 95.

[10] Wittreich, Feminist Milton, p. 31.

[11] Ibid., p. 32.

[12] Lucy Newlyn, Paradise Lost and the Romantic Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) p. 156.

[13] Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Conneticut: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 196.

[14] Wittreich, Feminist Milton, p. 46.

[15] Lewis, The Monk, p. 296.

[16] Ibid., p. 173.

[17] Ibid., p. 172.

[18] Ibid., p. 207.

[19] John Keats, ‘Lamia’, in Romanticism: An Anthology, 4th edition, ed. by Duncan Wu (New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell, 2012) pp. 1472-1488.

[20] Dobranski, ‘Clustering and Curling Locks: The Matter of Hair in Paradise Lost’, p. 343.

[21] Lewis, The Monk, p. 377.

[22] Ibid., p. 338.

Published by harpalkhambay

I'm a third year English Literature and History student, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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