Thomas Festa. The End of Learning: Milton and Education. New York & London: Routledge, 2006. 238pp. ISBN-10 0 415 97839 4.

Angelica Duran
Purdue University

Angelica Duran. "Review of Thomas Festa, The End of Learning: Milton and Education.".  Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May, 2008) 10.1-3<URL:>.

  1. Thomas Festa’s The End of Learning: Milton and Education contributes to a welcome spate of recent studies attending to the pedagogical theories and practices of John Milton’s work and life. While studies such as Richard DuRocher’s Milton among the Romans (2001), Angelica Duran’s The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution (2007), and Margaret Thickstun’s Milton’s Paradise Lost: Moral Education (2007) focus on specific texts or specific aspects of learning, Festa’s study is holistic in its approach, with the aim of responding to the large question “What sort of thing, then, is Miltonic education?” and to integrate “the ideological force of his [long acknowledged] moral didacticism” into his discussion (3, 17). It must be added that Festa’s study is also in subtle conversation with Jeffrey Shoulson’s Milton and the Rabbis: Hebraism, Hellenism, and Christianity (2001).
  2. “Chapter 1: Repairing the Ruins: Milton as Reader and Educator” focuses on Milton’s readings practices “and his conception of the power of books” to see what they “tell us about his idea of education”(23). Festa displays his own careful reading practices, for example, in referring to Milton’s “Latin corrections to the Latin translation” of Greek texts he was reading, and alerting readers to Milton’s changing of “the mood of the verbs from the Greek’s more straightforward present active indicative to an auxiliary mood of permission, obligation, and condition” in his re-writing of Euripides on the title page of Areopagitica (30, 32). He links such active reading practices to the political arguments Milton makes for active citizenship in Areopagitica and other works. Festa dedicates short but important attention to the role of Jewish works and the “Old Testament” as part of Milton’s intellectual inheritance in “Chapter 2: Milton and the Hebraic Pedagogue of the Divorce Tracts.” His discussion of Milton’s s specific engagements with his era’s perception of the Jewish “Law” as a schoolmaster is in the service of his larger aim of teasing out “the tension inherent in efforts to construct authorial stability out of the ruins of a textual inheritance” (48, 62). One of the most important parts of “Chapter 3: The English Revolution and Heroic Education” is its clarification of “humanism” in relation to seventeenth-century England and to Milton’s educational agenda. The argument for heroic education is discussed nicely in relation to Milton’s engagement “with the ethos of epic, the extent to which [Milton] internalized these tales and read their implication into his own lived experience,” especially as expressed in a number of works but especially Second Defense of the English People (76). “Chapter 4: The Inward Archives of Paradise Lost” is by far the longest and most nuanced discussion. Festa expands on themes and topics introduced in previous chapters as well as introduces new ones to demonstrate this chapter’s complex and intriguing thesis, “that Milton’s poem of origins over time reveals the fractures in the maker’s intention as a means of describing, albeit obliquely, an exemplary stance toward the materials of human memory” (106). As such, most attention is on Adam’s recollection of his creation in Book 8 and Michael’s prophecy of the post-lapsarian world in Books 10-12. Both sets of “archives” are retrieved by unfallen beings, but the audiences and their stances towards them differ greatly. The chapter ends with an open-ended rather than argumentative view of the “paradise within” that the archangel Michael offers Adam immediately before the open-ended expulsion of “our lingering parents.” The “Coda” that ends the book seems a symptom of the open-endedness of not only the final full chapter but also the whole book: where to end the meditation? In the coda, Festa brings in other critics and other Miltonic works, again being suggestive of rather than disputative about Milton’s didactic literature.
  3. At times, the aims and relevance of Festa’s close readings or historical contextualization are not entirely clear – though always interesting. We must concede that Festa’s extended meditation on Milton’s reading habits and their effect in his writing – and by extension into Festa’s larger discussion of literature and learning – is a difficult endeavor, one worth tackling, even if at times unevenly, because of what it offers to our understanding of education in intellectual history.

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© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).