The Tree of Knowledge

Eva Figes, Author, Fred Jordon, Editor Pantheon Books $22 (154p) ISBN 978-0-394-58765-3
English poet John Milton's exploited daughter Deborah is the narrator of this informative but labored fictional reminiscence. While she arouses both pity for herself and indignation at the paternal arrogance and the patriachal system that demeaned her, this treatment of a vital theme by Figes ( Ghosts ; the nonfiction Patriarchal Attitudes ) proves tedious artistically. The title alludes to the learning Milton begrudged women and to the bitter wisdom his daughter now tastes. Deborah was left poorly educated and penniless by the great man for whom she and her sister labored as amanuenses over Paradise Lost. Now white-haired and tending an ailing daughter, she ekes out a pittance by running a school in her home. Scholars barge in at their convenience, avid for souvenirs. Deborah murmurs on garrulously in the sweetly complaining accents of meek Christian fortitude, offering ``homespun thoughts and patchwork recollections,'' pious truisms (``The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away'') and an unconscionably long-winded allegory about politics in terms of wolves and lambs, during which she chides her audience to ``sit quiet'' and pay attention. The meandering voice descends eventually into madness and incoherence. The book's feminist message is incontrovertible, but the fictional structure flounders. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1991
Release date: 03/01/1991
Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-345-37401-1
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