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Satan & science with Sarkar

Malabika Sarkar, the administrator, took a back seat, allowing Sarkar, the Milton scholar, to come forth at the British Council recently.

The vice-chancellor of Presidency University introduced her book, Cosmos and Character in Paradise Lost published by Palgrave Macmillan (US), that places the epic in the intellectual context of new science, magic and alchemy of the 17th century to reveal fresh insights into Milton’s cosmos and the characters of Satan, Adam and Eve.

In conversation with Presidency English teacher Souvik Mukherjee, Sarkar revealed how a chance assignment in her first job as a part-time teacher at Jadavpur University — teaching Samson Agonistes to second-year MA students — pushed her towards Milton.

“I decided to return to Cambridge to learn more. I was reading Satan’s space travels in Book IX when it struck me that what Milton was saying did not match with Alastair Fowler’s notes for the edition.... I discovered there was more magic, alchemy and science than imagined in Paradise Lost.”

Sarkar, at her supervisor Christopher Ricks’ suggestion, wrote to Fowler and a brief exchange of letters followed with Fowler acknowledging in the preface to his second edition that he had learnt about astronomy from Sarkar.

“If I had a knack for fiction I’d love to write an imaginary dialogue between Milton and Galileo,” said Sarkar, who would urge students to read Paradise Lost as a great work of science fiction. “The angels just have to stand in front of the gates of Heaven, and the doors slide open. This was 1650, long before automatic gates were invented. Then there is Satan’s space travel.”