Saturday, October 01, 2011

Keen for a Peach, Plumbing of the Nectarine: Eve, Bruno Littlemore, and Me . . .

Peaches and Nectarines

Long-time readers of this blog know that John Milton depicted the putatively 'forebitten' fruit -- the serpent, anyway, claimed to have eaten one -- in his great poem Paradise Lost as a peach. A certain annoying citrus fruit online might quip, "Orange you glad it wasn't an apple?" I'd ironically suggest that apple or peach or whatever generic fruit it seemed in appearance, it turned out to be a lemon.

Just kidding. It was a peach for Adam and Eve, just as it was for Bruno Littlemore, who informs his amanuensis of the scientist's offer of the peach that tempted him into the 'fallen' world of humanity:
A peach, Gwen -- he was my serpent and I was his Eve.
The quote, of course, comes from page 12 of Ben Hale's recent novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, about which I blogged several days ago. I asked Ben why he chose the peach rather than the apple, and I learned a great deal about the experiment described in the novel, but I didn't get the specific reason for his choice of a peach, so I asked again:
One thing that's not clear yet . . . why did you choose a peach? Did you independently notice that "downie smiled" in PL fit a peach better than an apple?
Ben replied:
I don't know why it was a peach, honestly. It started as a peach, and then I slipped the TS Eliot joke in there, which fit so nicely I couldn't change it, and then it for some reason became important that it be a peach. I only wish I knew PL that well!
But perhaps Ben knows Paradise Lost better than he thinks if my earlier suggestion was correct:
Ben has at least been reading Milton, or seems to have been if I can take the descriptive clause "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma" as an echo of Milton's "ambrosial smell diffus'd" (Paradise Lost 9.852).
That clause "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma" occurs on page 13 of Ben's novel as part of the scientist's method for tempting Bruno into daring to eat the peach. If we look more closely at Milton's rendering of the scene in which Eve herself initiates the temptation of Adam, we see that Ben might have been influenced unawares, as Adam goes in search of Eve:
And forth to meet her went, the way she took
That Morn when first they parted; by the Tree
Of Knowledge he must pass, there he her met,
Scarse from the Tree returning; in her hand
A bough of fairest fruit that downie smil'd,
New gatherd, and ambrosial smell diffus'd. [PL 9.847-852]
That expression "downie smil'd" is part of the evidence that Robert Appelbaum gathers in his persuasive argument that Milton portrayed the forbidden fruit not as an apple but as a peach, thereby clearing the apple tree and impeaching the peach -- fitting tribute from a man named "Appelbaum"! But my point is that the proximity of "ambrosial smell diffus'd" to "downie smiled" might have been subconsciously noted by Ben Hale and could therefore have influenced his initial reason for settling on a peach that was soon "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma."

But was it originally a peach? The "downie" character of its appearance is emphasized only after Eve's fall. Perhaps it was a nectarine when Eve partook, but became 'impeached' with the incipient fall of nature? Botanically, nectarines and peaches are the same fruit, the difference being due to a recessive gene that results in smooth skin. Or should one reverse the order and say due to a dominant gene that results in downy skin?

Note, by the way, that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the nectarine is first mentioned in English in 1616, early enough for Milton to be aware of the fruit, though I'm being merely half-serious, for Milton would consider the nectarine just as fallen as the peach.

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At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno Jeff - of course I've never spent the time you "Miltonites" do on whatever it is (well yes of course I realize it's a poem from sometime a few years prior to ours) ya'll go on about... but I've my own theory.

Up-front and admittedly, I've never claimed nor been acclaimed in any sense ya'll really "Academically Really Smart Guys" somehow've gotten the licenses to place intials for one thing or another after you've signed your names...

But somehow I've reached the conclusion it wasn't either a peach nor an apple - only becaue of the word "downy."

I think "if" the temptation arose from some fruit, tasty agreed, that could have only been associated with a bush.


At 9:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think you're onto something, JK. Have fun with the conception. Or rather, be careful about that . . .

You might enjoy the novel, by the way.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Planning to. Is it available in large print?

Seems to have developed cataracts. Of course should everything go alright with the surgery scheduled for April - may not need the large print. But I guess I might need one of those "talking books."

We'll see (I hope).


At 9:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's 12-point font, I guess. Not especially large. I think that you'd like the story.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps it was a kiwi fruit.

At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great stuff once again, you guys. I'm glad you got some feedback from Ben hisself, Jeff. Your friend JK might consider reading the book on a Kindle (e.g.), where he could adjust the font size to whatever works best. I've got one at this point and like it "OK", especially for fiction. I'm finding it to be a pain with something I want to refer back into a lot, though; at least, in the particular book that's bugged me in that regard.

Anyhow, the whole peach thing is a good one in the book, I think, and made for some really inspired cover art that folks at Twelve came up with on practically the first day of working with Ben, as I recall. I really like that cover. --Pete

At 2:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kiwi fruit? Well, that's certainly fuzzy enough, and New Zealand does look like Paradise . . . (though Milton would have to have been a prophet receiving a vision of the future, not just visions of the past).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I like the cover, too, though I needed to read a bit to figure it out. I was quite interested to read that the fruit in the illustration is a peach . . . though I'm not sure precisely what's being depicted. Is the young Bruno offering the fruit to an older chimp in one of his later paintings?

Jeffery Hodges

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