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Versions of the Sublime: Illustrating Paradise Lost

2. Eve

2. Eve

Although Martin is associated typically with the cataclysmic, his representations of heaven and the female by themselves are expressive or beauty rather than sublimity. It is the figure of Sin rather than Eve in both Martin’s and Westall’s illustrations which achieves sublimity, the former employing spectacular effects of space and structure, and the latter foregrounding bodily form, both beautiful and horrific. Westall does not attempt a representation of heaven, but Martin includes two in his illustrations to Paradise Lost While the light radiating through the landscape and cityscape of heaven may achieve the effect of sublimity, it is another illustration of the vast pouring of light down the huge stair from heaven’s gate into the gloom of chaos, observed by the tiny figure of Satan, which fully achieves this effect.22

Martin's illustration of Eve seeing her reflection in the pool (Fig.4) is consistent with his overall conception of the relation of the human to the conditions, powers, and qualities of the world which provides the temporal theatre for human being and action. The human figure is placed at the very centre of the spectator's attention, being distinguished both by standing erect (in Milton's account she 'laid me down/On the green bank' (4.457-58)) and appearing to be infused with the light that fills the space behind her. But Eve is also an instance of the qualities which are otherwise

Figure 3. Richard Westall, illustration to Book 8.44.

Figure 3. Richard Westall, illustration to Book 8.44.

Figure 4. John Martin, illustration to Book 4.453,Eve at the Fountain.

Figure 4. John Martin, illustration to Book 4.453,Eve at the Fountain.

manifested by the deep recession of the enclosing valley; the rich diversity of tree forms, making visible the import of Milton's later description of trees in the garden of Eden as the 'stateliest Covert, Cedar, Pine and Palm' (9.435); and the calm dissolving of the whole scene into light in the distance and into the sky. The overall impression created by this picture, consistent with its being an instance of the beautiful rather than the sublime, is that of serenity, a quality which can derive from 'the translation of temporal events into the spatial realm of imagery ... the coexistence of things in space enables us to see them in their wholeness, to put them in relation to others, and to organize them in systems’. 23

It is this quality of serenity which Eve evokes in her account to Adam of her first moment of consciousness:

That day I oft remember, when from sleep
I first awak't and found myself repos'd
Under a shade on flow'rs, much wond'ring where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.
Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issu'd from a Cave and spread
Into a liquid Plain, then stood unmov'd
Pure as th'expanse of Heav'n; (4.449-56)

The effect of Martin's illustration is to link Eve, nature, and heaven in a representation of purity; her moment of delayed self-discovery through seeing her reflection in the pool as another with whom she exchanges 'answering looks/of sympathy and love' (4.464-66) is taken to confirm this circuit between Eve and created nature rather than to enforce an original psychic separateness or difference which Milton attributes to Eve through this episode. 24

Eve's association with flowers as that part of organic nature which is most distinctively like herself is made the principal element in Westall's illustration of a later incident in the poem, the moment when Eve has separated from Adam and is about to encounter Satan (Fig. 3). Just as Martin can be interpreted to represent Eve in an attitude of surprised pleasure, with all the threatening implications of her self- recognition suppressed, so Westall achieves an impression of serene beauty by presenting Eve as she experiences herself and as she was created to be:

Veil'd in a cloud of Fragrance, where she stood,
Half spi'd, so thick the Roses blushing round
About her glowed, oft stooping to support
Each Flow'r of slender stalk, whose head though gay
Carnation, Purple, Azure, or spekt with Gold,
Hung drooping unsustain'd, them she upstays
Gently with Myrtle band, mindless the while,
... her Heav'nly form
Angelic, but more soft, and Feminine,
Her graceful Innocence ...

Milton frames our perception of Eve at this moment in the poem (9.417-62) both through Satan's hidden observation and through the extensive description of floral beauty, his invoking the reader's knowledge of the great gardens of antiquity, and his contrast between the degraded character of city life and the pastoral or rural world in which 'each thing met conceives delight'. The illustration works to suppress any knowledge of the presence of Satan, something which is difficult to overlook when reading the poem, even though the effect of Milton's description on this reader is very like the effect of Eve on Satan as Milton describes it: 'overaw'd ... abstracted stood'. Instead, it follows the lead of the pastoral simile, which carries the reader through a list of rural and natural objects which give delight to the highest pleasure, which is given by the chance encounter with a 'fair Virgin' who 'in her look sums all Delight'. Westall's conception of the scene, equally foregrounding Eve's form and those of the flowers, with the most intense light on her and the flowers covering her body, fully captures the effect and sentiment of delight and purified pleasure which Milton’s writing works in such an elaborated and focused way to associate with Eve in the reader's perception of her.