Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



During a time when ideological debates between Milton critics remained largely unresolved, Stanley Fish reconciled both sides of the “Milton Controversy” with Surprised by Sin, positing a theoretically sophisticated method that centers the poem’s meaning in the reader’s experience. Christian and non-Christian critics became enfranchised in critical debate since their reactions, according to Fish, were valid and intended by Milton. Borrowing his intentionalist approach from A.J.A. Waldock, Fish asserts his version of both author and text while implicitly employing a radically subjective hermeneutics. Fish focuses on the multiple and contradictory linguistic meanings within Paradise Lost, locating the source of these contradictions in the human mind. Viewing the problems of language as a result of human distance from the originator of language (the divine Logos), Fish’s Milton strongly draws on the Christianity of C.S Lewis. In contrast to the methods of post-Derridean deconstruction, Fish’s Milton evinces the instability of language in order to strengthen the mind of his reader in a metaphysically Christian faith. Over the course of four decades, Fish’s historically plausible critical framework became accepted as a valuable basis for critical practice. However, his work also posed a challenge to later critics who disagreed with its ideological basis and its effect on critical method. Critical response to Fish’s work often reflects an anxiety that recalls the theory of Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence. Loosely following Bloom’s terms, I contend that critical reactions to Surprised by Sin reflect an ongoing anxiety over Fish’s effective mediation with Milton’s Paradise Lost.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Anna K. Nardo