Blake, Nation and Empire

By Tambling, Jeremy | The Byron Journal, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Blake, Nation and Empire


Tambling, Jeremy, The Byron Journal


BLAKE, NATION AND EMPIRE. Edited by Steve Clark and David Worrall. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-333-99314-9. Pp. xii + 263. £45.00.

This volume developed out of a conference held at Tate Britain, which accompanied a Blake exhibition, and some of the contributors and the broad historicising theme are carried over from two earlier anthologies, Historicising Blake (1994) and Blake in the Nineties (1999), also edited by Steve Clark and David Worrall. A few of the contributors and the themes are also to be found in Steve Clark's 2006 anthology of criticism, edited with Masahi Suzuki, Blake in the Orient, which includes a version of David Worrall's essay here on The Book of Thel, where he argues that The Book of Thel was written as a refusal of Swedenborg's doctrine of conjugal love, seen as a plan both colonial (because intended for realisation in Sierra Leone) and 'uncompromisingly sexually chauvinist'. Many of the contributors to Blake, Nation and Empire are well known for their historicising readings of Blake, and their essays read as footnotes to books that have previously appeared: the point applies to Saree Makdisi, Jon Mee, Christopher Z. Hobson and Jason Whittaker. Such scholars as Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, Andrew Lincoln, Susan Matthews and Joseph Viscomi continue with work that is also familiar from their earlier published work. Viscomi contributes an excellent piece on the visual art of Blake as this was known to Gilchrist, but, overall, there is an effect which is a little déjà vu. This might be predicted from the title, because, while the word 'empire' goes right back to David Erdman's 1954 study, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, the word 'nation' offers sufficient reminders of both the nationalist ideology behind Tate Britain - once, more happily, just called the Tate - and the theoretical work of Homi Bhabha (not referenced), as well as the less theoretical work of Linda Colley (alluded to twice), to suggest that this topic has already been mined quite considerably.

For those unfamiliar with the critical orthodoxy, Robert N. Essick supplies its genealogy onwards from Erdman via Stuart Crehan in his 1984 Blake in Context: E. P. Thompson, given rather short shrift here, after the discovery that Blake's mother had not been a Muggletonian; Nicholas Williams (Ideology and Utopia in the Poetry of William Blake), whose utopianism Worrall takes issue with; Jackie DiSalvo, G. …

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