BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

William Blake at BARS

Today on the Blog is a post from Jodie Marley (University of Nottingham). This is the third in a series of reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. She is part of the committee running UoN Romanticism with Amy Wilcockson and Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, at the University of Nottingham. This is a Romanticism reading group who run monthly sessions with invited guest speakers. This Nottingham-based group has members and attendees who from across the UK, and organise a field trip every term to a local Romantic area of interest. For more details – follow @UoNRomanticism or email uonromanticism@nottingham.ac.uk

As I specialise in Blake, it was an absolute delight to experience four Blake panels unfold at BARS 2019. We had one Blake panel per day, which was, to quote Jason Whittaker (University of Lincoln) , ‘utter bliss’.

I presented my paper on day one’s Blake panel on ‘The Fantastical Reception of William Blake’. I spoke on the reception of Blake’s esoteric thought by W. B. Yeats. Jason Whittaker’s paper on Blake discussed Ray Nelson’s Blake’s Progress and Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, and Luke Walker’s (Roehampton University) paper outlined connections between Blake, Dead Man and mid-twentieth-century psychedelia’s interpretations of Romanticism. This panel’s consideration of the expansion of Romanticism’s influence beyond 1790-1830 was particularly useful in broadening Romantic studies’ traditional scope.

Day two’s Blake panel focused on Blake’ art and illustration. Clémence Ardin’s (University of Kent) paper compared Blake’s illustrations of fallen women and angels in the Book of Enoch with Alfred de Vigny’s Eloa ou la soeur des anges. Sharon Choe’s (University of York) paper centred around a close-reading images on the The Book of Urizen plates to discuss Blake’s representations of darkness, the void, creation and destruction. Elli Karampela’s (University of Sheffield) paper discussed ‘The Ghost of a flea’, Blake’s ‘Visionary Heads’ and how we might conceptualise them as Gothic bodies.

Clémence Ardin, Sharon Choe and Elli Karampela on the ‘Fantasising Blake’ panel

Day three’s Blake panel, ‘William Blake’s Hand’, began with Mark Crosby (Kansas State University) and his paper on Blake’s letters and how they illustrated Blake’s (often difficult) journey through the patronage system. Elizabeth Potter’s (University of York) paper, gave an innovative reassessment of approaching Blake’s marginalia, and helped me reassess and realign my current use of Blake’s marginalia. Both Potter and I quoted the same aphorism of Lavater’s (number 532) in our respective papers, an eerie coincidence. The final paper for this panel was Josephine McQuail’s (Tennessee Tech University) on eroticism in the Vala illustrations, and its reception in Blake criticism over the centuries. As in the second Blake panel, there was an emphasis in McQuail’s paper on the importance, the necessity of considering Blake’s images alongside his works, which I find increasingly important as I form my own research about Blake.

Elizabeth Potter giving her paper

I chaired day four’s Blake panel, ‘Blake’s Visionary Imagination’. Tara Lee’s (University of Oxford) spoke on the intersection of the natural and the mechanical in Blake’s particular form of epic. Joshua Schouten de Jel (Plymouth University) discussed selfhood and psychoanalysis in The Book of Thel and Visions of the Daughters of Albion. Finally, with perhaps one of my favourite papers of the conference, Camille Adnot (Paris-Diderot University) spoke on Blake’s Four Zoas, the influence of medieval mappae mundi on Blake’s illustrations, and the question of mapping dreamscapes in Blake’s works.

Camille Adnot presenting her paper

BARS 2019 was fascinating from start to finish. Although the end of the conference left me feeling deflated that four days of exciting conversations had to come to an end, I am, ultimately, excited for the future of my research area and the connections I’ve made within it.

Jodie Marley, University of Nottingham

16th August 2019