Scholars have often drawn attention to William Blake's unusual sensitivity to his social context. In this book, Nicholas Williams situates Blake's thought historically by showing how through the decades of a long and productive career, Blake consistently responded to the ideas, writing, and art of contemporaries. Williams presents detailed readings of several of Blake's major poems alongside Rousseau's Emile, Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, Paine's Rights of Man, Burke's Reflections of the Revolution in France, and Robert Owen's Utopian experiments. In doing so, he offers revealing new insights into key Blake texts and draws attention to their inclusion of notions of social determinism, theories of ideology-critique and utopian traditions. Williams argues that if we are truly to understand ideology as it relates to Blake, we must understand the practical situation in which the ideological Blake found himself. His study is a revealing commentary on the work of one of our most challenging poets.
List of figures; Preface; Acknowledgements; Note on the text and list of abbreviations; 1. Blake, ideology and utopia: strategies for change; 2. The ideology of instruction in Emile and Songs of Innocence and of Experience; 3. The discourse of women's liberation in Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Europe and Visions of the Daughters of Albion; 4. Edmund Burke and models of history in America, The Song of Los and The Four Zoas; 5. The utopian moment in Rights of Man and Milton; 6. The utopian city and the public sphere in Robert Owen and Jerusalem; 7. Conclusion: the function of utopianism at the present time; Notes; Index.
"His discussion of Blake and gender, his comparison of the Blakean view of history to Burkean historiography, and his placing of Blake's apocalyptic works and his Jerusalem in critical juxtaposition to The Rights of Man and to Robert Owens's experiments in early socialism allow us to read Blake in a context that is all too often ignored in Blake studies." Joseph W. Childers