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Peter Ackroyd: Milton in America

This must be the dullest of Ackroyd’s novels. The poet, John Milton, was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War and, after the restoration of Charles II, he was arrested, fined and then released. He continued to write poetry (including finishing off Paradise Lost and writing Paradise Regained) till his death. Ackroyd takes as his premise that Milton was so scared he fled the country and went to America (where, in practice, Charles II could easily have had him arrested but Ackroyd ignores this). Milton, accompanied by his secretary, Goosequill, takes over a town which is renamed New Milton is his honour and proceeds to cast out everything he does not like – whores, homosexuals, native Americans (unless they pray and dress as Englishmen) and, in particular, Catholics. A Catholic group moves into a neighbouring town and, eventually, the two towns do battle. But Ackroyd never gets this book going. Milton is an obnoxious Puritan, Goosequill bland and his lady love, like all women in Ackroyd, sweet and incidental. Frankly, I would prefer to read Paradise Lost and that is a poem that really bored me.

Publishing history

First published 1996 by Sinclair-Stevenson