Research Paper: William Blake Is Usually Classified

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[. . .] Yet she also immediately shifts to likening the phallus to an infant, which of course is a natural progression, considering that childbirth only occurs after copulation. But even so, it is the attitude that Thel takes toward the available reality of sexual experience that is so shocking to us: she seems frankly disinterested. Yet we are not to interpet this necessarily as aversion to sex. Rather, Blake's two subsequent works -- the partial sequel Visions of the Daughters of Albion and the work of religious prose philosophy (with some interspersed poems) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In the former, Blake's heroine Oothoon -- whose name suggests Greek words for both "egg" and "goddess" -- is violently raped but who explicitly invokes a prophetic future in which slavery ends and women are given control over their own sexuality:

'But Oothoon is not so, a virgin fill'd with virgin fancies,

Open to joy and to delight wherever beauty appears:

If in the morning sun I find it, there my eyes are fix'd?

In happy copulation; if in evening mild, wearied with work,

Sit on a bank and draw the pleasures of this free-born joy.

'The moment of desire! The moment of desire! The virgin?

That pines for man shall awaken her womb to enormous joys?

In the secret shadows of her chamber: the youth shut up from?

The lustful joy shall forget to generate, and create an amorous image?

In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow

(Blake, Visions)

It is hard for the modern reader to conceive that these lines were written in the late eighteenth century. But here it becomes clear the way in which Visions of the Daughters of Albion is intended as a sequel to The Book of Thel. Both are poems about virgins. Yet Thel turns back upon the cusp of sexual experience, disappointed seemingly at what it offers. Whereas Oothoon is engaged to her perfect bridegroom when she is shockingly raped by the vile Bromion (who will eventually be punished and enslaved for the deed). Yet the hymn to sexual joy that Oothoon is still able to muster despite the sordid reality of her situation shows a strain of powerful faith in the divinely-ordained creative role of the sexual act in Blake.

It is noteworthy that during Blake's lifetime rumors of public nudism with his wife and offers of wife-swapping or "free love" with members of his circle would be passed around, although never actually confirmed. The simple fact is that Blake was tapping into a long-latent strain of radical sexualized Protestantism which had been earlier seen in the "Familist" and "Free Love" sects of Britain in the previous century. These had been forcibly suppressed by the Puritan regime of Cromwell, but to a certain extent there is a direct line of descent from those radical Protestant sex cults of the English Revolution that are so memorably described by Christopher Hill in his account The World Turned Upside-Down and the milieu of William Blake a century later (but within the context of the same autodidact Protestant working-class operating on "divine inspiration" that is found in Hill's description of Quakers, Ranters, Diggers, and Muggletonians). To a certain degree, Blake is absorbing through the oral culture of the working class the same revolutionary currents which had been given voice in works like Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which asserted in the wake of the universalist egalitarianism of the French Revolution a reminder that there remained a large disenfranchised class of persons whose existence little interested the philosophes or sans-culottes. In a survey of Blake's overall changing attitudes toward sex and gender, David Aers "in The Visions of the Daughters the chief woman is a libertarian figure challenging male violence and repressiveness" and overall Aers seems to agree with Blake's great ephebe Harold Bloom's interpretation of the poem as a "hymn to free love" (Aers 500). But to a certain extent, these seemingly perverse or profane intrusions of sexuality are the essence of Blake's own religious vision: as he says in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell "the lust of the goat is the glory of God," and when we recall the Biblical injunction to go forth and multiply, we may begin to suspect that he had good scriptural justification for his vision of sexualized millennium.

Works Cited

Aers, D. "William Blake and the Dialectics of Sex." English Literary History 44.3 (1977): 500-14. Print.

Blake, William. "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell."

Blake, William. The Book of Thel.

Blake, William. Visions of the Daughters of Albion.

Bentley, Jr., G.E. William Blake: The Critical Heritage. London and New York: Routledge, 1975. Print.

Den Otter, A.G. "The Question and The Book of Thel." Studies in Romanticism 30.4 (Winter 1991): 633-655. Print.

Frye, Northrop. "Poetry and Design in William Blake." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 10.1 (1951): 35-42. Print.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside-Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. New York: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.

Levinson, Marjorie. " 'The Book of Thel' by William Blake: A Critical Reading." English Literary History 47.2 (1980): 287-303. Print.

Norvig, Gerda S. "Female Subjectivity and the Desire of Reading in (to) Blake's Book of Thel." Studies in Romanticism 34.2 (Summer 1995): 255-71. Print.

Robinson, Henry Crabb. Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, Etc., Being Selections from the Remains of Henry Crabb Robinson. Ed.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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