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Generations of Milton scholars have agreed that Para dise Lost asserts a genital conjugality between Adam and Eve prior to the Fall. Critical consensus has been so extensive that Adam and Eve's sexual intimacy is a veritable non-question in Milton criticism. For this reason, few Miltonists have analyzed the physical specifics of Adam and Eve's relationship... Turner claims from the outset that "Milton . . . insists on a full sexual life for the unfallen Adam and Eve--bringing it to life as fully as his poetic resources allow"... Rather than argue for Adam and Eve's pre-lapsarian sexuality (establishing that the couple did copulate in Eden); we have merely argued from it (explaining how the couple's alleged intimacy illuminates other aspects of Milton's oeuvre).

Yet Turner's own work suggests the dangers of taking such an easy approach to conjugality in Paradise Lost. In the preface to One Flesh, Turner claims that the biblical source text of Milton's epic is characterized by a fundamental "indeterminacy" resulting in a fragmented text "that must be, and yet cannot be, read as one". Turner acknowledges that the Bible is particularly cloudy on the question of Adam and Eve's intimacy in the Garden of Eden. Turner also avows that his idea or "version of Milton . . . shares the current tendency to stress his inconsistency and doubleness". But neither Milton's inconsistency and doubleness nor the Bible's indeterminacy has the slightest effect on Turner's convictions regarding pre-lapsarian sexuality in Paradise Lost. Although he enumerates a number of causes for caution, Turner shrugs off all uncertainty regarding sex in Eden, unwaveringly proclaiming that in Milton's epic, "the first couple live for weeks in Paradise enjoying full sexual intercourse".

While Turner never doubts that Milton explicitly affords Adam and Eve an Edenic sexuality, there are times when his text unwittingly raises suspicion to the contrary. These moments occur when Turner is forced to insist upon Milton's radical originality in attributing to Adam and Eve the specific type of conjugal relations that Turner perceives in Paradise Lost. One Flesh plumbs the writ ings and traditions of a remarkable array of thinkers from widely divergent historical, religious, and cultural viewpoints. Turner's reading of the sexuality in Paradise Lost, however, often requires that he set Milton at odds with every other ideologue included in his study.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Milton Quarterly, volume 34, 2000 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online in Milton Quarterly.

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