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IN BRIEF

Fiction

March 31, 1991|Sharon Dirlam

THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE by Eva Figes (Pantheon: $20; 154 pp.). This is a story about the daughter of English poet John Milton (1608-1674). She is bright, but denied an education; capable, but unappreciated by her father, who tutored her male cousins but not his own daughters. And yet, being blind, he demanded that she entertain him by reading out loud; he made sure her pronunciation was accurate while deeming it unnecessary to teach her what the words meant. Her story is about the sorrow of women, their death in childbirth, the deaths of their children, their punishment by men for having sampled the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Scholars visit Milton's daughter in her old age to discover more about the great man. "Poor father, so mean of soul in petty matters, it fits not to his gift," she tells them. She lives in poverty, trying to give her children the love her father denied her, but unable to give them the knowledge he withheld.

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