Blake, Gender and Culture
‘Naked Beauty displayed’. And with Blake’s own erotically charged attitude tohistory and its transormation (one need only mention the ery Orc and the‘harlot’ Jerusalem) it is no wonder that every new historical revelation carriesa new sexual illumination. Te exuberance o history–gender–sexuality combi-nations is vivid in the work o Blake critics ranging rom Christopher Hobsonto Susan Matthews, where documentary rigour brings to light sexual realms inBlake’s world which had been obscured but were there or the discovery.
Tiscollection aims to show the richness that combinations o Blake, gender and cul-ture are bringing orth in the early twenty-rst century.Another recent event testies to the burning passions that arise when history orceully returns. Te 400th anniversary celebrations o the King James Bible saw linguistic wizard Phillip Pullman resort to single, virile words in order to captureBlake – ‘inexhaustible, mysterious, enthralling’ – and his own intense response– ‘absorbed, ascinated, obsessed’.
Blake’s glow is supercharged or those whochoose to encounter and explore his verbal and visual universes o desire. Te Sexy Blake conerence (Oxord, July 2010) rom which much o the current volumegrows, denitively showed this.
It seems that every time we learn something new about, and rom, Blake, sex and sexuality, gender and love are his hottest topics.Tree recent examples – a new letter, a new piece o biographical detail and a new collection o designs and verses – wonderully illustrate this, and a brie account o these discoveries serves as a tting rame to a summary o our contents.In late 2009 a Blake letter came to light which had been lost or 124 years.
It was written to William Hayley in August 1804 and, as might at this point beexpected, brims with sexual playulness and gender signicance.
Tere’s just somuch here: convivial comment on emale riends and acquaintances; diplomatic praise or the talents o a woman artist; even aesthetic discussion o just the kindo image Sewell disparaged – or the newly identied ‘Sketch o a Shipwreck aer Romney’
is littered with unnatural nudes and eatures in the oregroundan awesomely muscled male rescuer whose wave-parting steed rears out o the sea with am
ly enormous erectile suggestion. As mariners and mothers look on in wonder, we clearly see ‘Naked Beauty displayed’, and this is just one o the ways this letter is ripe with returned potential. Another example is the incompa-rable sexual inventiveness at work in what might have been just obligatory praiseor Hayley’s renewed poetic productivity: ‘I also rejoice to hear that your Museis rocking the Cradle Pray take care o both Mother & Child & sufer not the wicked harlot Prose to ingross too much o your precious time’.
Hayley’s aestheticis eminized and becomes maternal, yet he is also a doting ather in danger o low-down seduction by the ‘wicked harlot Prose’. Could there be a more sugges-tive way to commend diligent devotion to the composition o verse? In addition,reciprocated appreciation o Hayley’s habitual gallantry has the efect o bringing Catherine Blake out o the shadows too.
We get a response rom Catherine to