The Countenance Divine & 'nothing more important than trifles': critical reflections on The Countenance Divine

Hughes, Michael Edward (2013) The Countenance Divine & 'nothing more important than trifles': critical reflections on The Countenance Divine. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


In 1666, poet and revolutionary John Milton completes his epic Paradise Lost amid a/ever of prophetic speculation: is this the year God will finally deliver a terrible judgement on London? in 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Bloke has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns, and leads him towards a daring act of creation. In J888, five women are brutally murdered and mutilated in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master. And in 1999, as the walls between past, present and future collapse, and the end of time itself approaches, a computer programmer working on the Millennium Bug discovers he might hold the key to the coming apocalypse. This Creative Writing PhD comprises a complete novel (86,495 words) and a critical commentary (32,269 words), plus appendices (c. 10,000 words). The Countenance Divine is an original work of prose fiction composed of four parallel narratives, each grounded in extensive historical and literary research. The accompanying commentary takes the form of a series of critical reflections which investigate and contextualise the process of composition. In particular, they provide new perspectives on the ethics of using and abusing historical facts in imaginative writing, and on the place of the fantastical in contemporary British literary fiction. They also consider the specific formal and stylistic challenges of this project, and offer a uniquely frank and detailed account of the creation of a novel from first inspiration to final draft. The appendices include extracts from early drafts, as well as the first modern transcript of one of the novel's key historical sources: a rare pamphlet which describes the disinterment of John Milton's remains in 1790.

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