Manchester Uni students stage Milton marathon

By Tom Redfern

A group of Manchester University students and staff have raised hundreds of pounds for charity by staging a reading with a difference.

The group took it in turns to read John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost in an 11-hour marathon on December 10.

The event was organised by PhD student Liam Haydon and the university’s Milton reading group, which meets weekly to discuss the poet’s work.

“The reading went very well, much better than I’d hoped, in fact,” he said.

“I was amazed by how much preparation and effort people put in both to preparing their section and to making the day go smoothly.”

They had originally aimed to raise £500 in sponsorship for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, but have so far reached a total £822.

The choice of charity is appropriate as Milton himself became blind before writing the poem, and had to dictate its 10,552 lines to his daughters and other hired transcribers.

Each of the readers took a 200-line section of the poem, which took around 10 minutes to read aloud. Many volunteers stayed to listen after their section, and others turned up to listen throughout the day.

Liam Haydon said hearing the poem read aloud was a very different experience to reading it.

“Certainly it flows better, and my focus was brought back to the poem itself as a great piece of literature, rather than reading it as something to be studied which is what I normally do,” he added.

Liam’s PhD supervisor Dr Jerome de Groot, who also took part in the reading, is such a big fan of Paradise Lost he even listens to it on his iPod.

He said the poem was largely responsible for the English-speaking world’s understanding of the story of Adam and Eve.

“The sheer imagination of Milton is breathtaking: Hell and Chaos are vividly imagined, the angels and devils fight in mid-air and even throw mountains, and Milton’s Satan is one of the great characters in literature,” said Dr de Groot.

“My students are usually pleasantly surprised at how interesting and accessible it actually is: many end up singing its praises.” 

The money raised will be forwarded to the RNIB by the JustGiving website, which collects donations electronically.

Visit to check the current total raised or sponsor the group.

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