OSCAR WILDE

Oscar Wilde’s rich and dramatic portrayals of the human condition came during the height of the prosperity that swept through London in the Victorian Era of the late 19th century. At a time when all citizens of Britain were finally able to embrace literature the wealthy and educated could only once afford, Wilde wrote many short stories, plays and poems that continue to inspire millions around the world.

By the time William Wilde, Oscar’s father, was 28, he had graduated as a doctor, completed a voyage to Madeira, Teneriffe, North Africa and the Middle East, studied at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, written two books and been appointed medical advisor to the Irish Census of 1841. When the medical statistics were published two years later they contained data which had not been collected in any other country at the time, and as a result, William became the Assistant Commissioner to the 1851 Census. He held the same position for the two succeeding Censuses and, in 1864, he was knighted for his work on them. When William opened a Dublin practice specializing in ear and eye diseases, he felt he should make some provision for the free treatment of the city’s poor population. In 1844, he founded St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, built entirely at his own expense.

Before he married, William fathered three children. Henry Wilson was born in 1838, Emily in 1847 and Mary in 1849. To William’s credit, he provided financial support for all of them. He paid for Henry’s education and medical studies, eventually hiring him into St. Mark’s Hospital as an assistant. Sadly, Mary and Emily, who were raised by William’s brother, both died in a fire at the ages of 22 and 24.

 

Oscar’s mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, first gained attention in 1846 when she began writing revolutionary poems under the pseudonym “Speranza” for a weekly Irish newspaper, The Nation. In 1848, as the country’s famine worsened and the Year of Revolution took hold of Europe, the newspaper offices were raided and had to close. Jane, who was also a gifted linguist with working knowledge of the major European languages, went on to translate Wilhelm Meinhold’s gothic horror novel “Sidonia the Sorceress.” Oscar would later read the translation with relish, and draw on it for the darker elements of his own work.

Jane’s first child, William “Willie” Charles Kingsbury, was born on September 26, 1852 and her second, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie, on October 16, 1854. The daughter she had longed for, Isola Emily Francesca, was delivered on April 2, 1857. Ten years later, however, Emily died from a sudden fever. Oscar was profoundly affected by the loss of his sister, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Willie and Oscar attended the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, where Oscar excelled at studying the classics, taking top prize his last two years, and also earning a second prize in drawing. In 1871, Oscar was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. Again, he did particularly well in his classics courses, placing first in his examinations in 1872 and earning the highest honor the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity with two final achievements. He won the college’s Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford.

Oscar’s father died on April 19, 1876, leaving the family financially strapped. Henry, William’s eldest son, paid the mortgage on the family’s house and supported them until his sudden death in 1877. Meanwhile, Oscar continued to do well at Oxford. He was awarded the Newdigate prize for his poem, “Ravenna,” and a First Class in both his “Mods” and “Greats” by his examiners. After graduation, Oscar moved to London to live with his friend Frank Miles, a popular high society portrait painter. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry. “Poems” received mixed reviews by critics, but helped to move Oscar’s writing career along.

In December 1881, Oscar sailed for New York to travel across the United States and deliver a series of lectures on aesthetics. The 50-lecture tour was originally scheduled to last four months, but stretched to nearly a year, with over 140 lectures given in 260 days. In between lectures he made time to meet with Henry Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. He also arranged for his play, “Vera,” to be staged in New York the following year. When he returned from America, Oscar spent three months in Paris writing a blank-verse tragedy that had been commissioned by the actress Mary Anderson. When he sent it to her, however, she turned it down. He then set off on a lecture tour of Britain and Ireland.

On May 29, 1884, Oscar married Constance Lloyd. Constance was four years younger than Oscar and the daughter of a prominent barrister who died when she was 16. She was well-read, spoke several European languages and had an outspoken, independent mind. Oscar and Constance had two sons in quick succession, Cyril in 1885 and Vyvyan in 1886. With a family to support, Oscar accepted a job revitalizing the Woman’s World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889. The next six years were to become the most creative period of his life. He published two collections of children’s stories, “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), and “The House of Pomegranates” (1892). His first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in an American magazine in 1890 to a storm of critical protest. He expanded the story and had it published in book form the following year. Its implied homoerotic theme was considered very immoral by the Victorians and played a considerable part in his later legal trials. Oscar’s first play, “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” opened in February 1892. Its financial and critical success prompted him to continue to write for the theater. His subsequent plays included “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright.

 

In the summer of 1891, Oscar met Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry. Bosie was well acquainted with Oscar’s novel “Dorian Gray” and was an undergraduate at Oxford. They soon became lovers and were inseparable until Wilde’s arrest four years later. In April 1895, Oscar sued Bosie’s father for libel as the Marquis had accused him of homosexuality. Oscar withdrew his case but was himself arrested and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labor. Constance took the children to Switzerland and reverted to an old family name, “Holland.”

Upon his release, Oscar wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a response to the agony he experienced in prison. It was published shortly before Constance’s death in 1898. He and Bosie reunited briefly, but Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sadly, he was unable to rekindle his creative fires. When a recurrent ear infection became serious several years later, meningitis set in, and Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900.

Numerous books and articles have been written on Oscar Wilde, reflecting on the life and contributions of this unconventional author since his death over a hundred years ago. A celebrity in his own time, Wilde’s indelible influence will remain as strong as ever and keep audiences captivated in perpetuity.

 

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The Picture of Dorian Gray – Analysis

Analysis

Dorian succumbs to paranoia at Lady Narborough’s home, but his fear of being discovered prove unnecessary. His hostess tells him that “you are made to be good – you look so good.” The inability to accept the possibility that a young, innocent appearance hides anything other than an innocent, beautiful personality is a common one in Dorian’s social circle; this superficiality is what allows him to maintain a level of respect and admiration, despite the preponderance of nasty rumors, and even despite the guilt of a murder weighing on his conscience.

Wilde uses Dorian’s group of friends to parody the superficiality of London’s aristocracy. Lord Henry’s convictions that beauty is the most important thing in the world and that physical beauty is the greatest asset a person can have seem to be shockingly accurate, at least amongst people such as those whom Dorian and Henry associate with. This raises an important question: if Lord Henry’s morally shallow beliefs are justified, can we condemn his character for espousing them?

Dorian’s odd mannerisms while handling the ornate box of opium and his discreet flight to the opium den reveal an addiction that we have been thus far unaware of. Dorian has always escaped his guilt by immersing himself in pleasurable distractions, but his lapse into addiction signifies that he has sunk to yet a lower level of degradation. This addiction also reminds us of the nature of Dorian’s relationship to the portrait. Like an addict, Dorian cannot refrain from seeking out and indulging himself in new guilty pleasures. And, like an addict, Dorian cannot help but return to the attic and bask in the horror of his disfigured soul.

Adrian’s presence in the opium den bothers Dorian because he “wanted to be where no one knew who he was. He wanted to escape from himself.” His past, however, haunts him no matter where he turns. One might expect Dorian to take some solace from the fact that, unlike Alan Campbell, Adrian is willing to interact with Dorian, but other people mean so little to Dorian at this point that he can only view Adrian as a nuisance. Instead of taking pity on Adrian’s deplorable state, Dorian is repulsed.

The inescapability of the past is also exemplified by the reappearance of Sibyl’s vengeful brother. James Vane seeks revenge for the very first instance of Dorian’s corruption: the act of selfish vanity that caused the initial change in the painting. James’s determination to avenge his sister’s death represents the culmination of all of Dorian’s sins, returning to hunt him down. However, superficiality does not fail Dorian yet; in this first encounter with James, Dorian’s face literally saves his life.

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY – Oscar Wilde

Summary

In the stately London home of his aunt, Lady Brandon, the well-known artist Basil Hallward meets Dorian Gray. Dorian is a cultured, wealthy, and impossibly beautiful young man who immediately captures Basil’s artistic imagination. Dorian sits for several portraits, and Basil often depicts him as an ancient Greek hero or a mythological figure. When the novel opens, the artist is completing his first portrait of Dorian as he truly is, but, as he admits to his friend Lord Henry Wotton, the painting disappoints him because it reveals too much of his feeling for his subject. Lord Henry, a famous wit who enjoys scandalizing his friends by celebrating youth, beauty, and the selfish pursuit of pleasure, disagrees, claiming that the portrait is Basil’s masterpiece. Dorian arrives at the studio, and Basil reluctantly introduces him to Lord Henry, who he fears will have a damaging influence on the impressionable, young Dorian.

 

Basil’s fears are well founded; before the end of their first conversation, Lord Henry upsets Dorian with a speech about the transient nature of beauty and youth. Worried that these, his most impressive characteristics, are fading day by day, Dorian curses his portrait, which he believes will one day remind him of the beauty he will have lost. In a fit of distress, he pledges his soul if only the painting could bear the burden of age and infamy, allowing him to stay forever young. After Dorian’s outbursts, Lord Henry reaffirms his desire to own the portrait; however, Basil insists the portrait belongs to Dorian.

Over the next few weeks, Lord Henry’s influence over Dorian grows stronger. The youth becomes a disciple of the “new Hedonism” and proposes to live a life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. He falls in love with Sibyl Vane, a young actress who performs in a theater in London’s slums. He adores her acting; she, in turn, refers to him as “Prince Charming” and refuses to heed the warnings of her brother, James Vane, that Dorian is no good for her. Overcome by her emotions for Dorian, Sibyl decides that she can no longer act, wondering how she can pretend to love on the stage now that she has experienced the real thing. Dorian, who loves Sibyl because of her ability to act, cruelly breaks his engagement with her. After doing so, he returns home to notice that his face in Basil’s portrait of him has changed: it now sneers. Frightened that his wish for his likeness in the painting to bear the ill effects of his behavior has come true and that his sins will be recorded on the canvas, he resolves to make amends with Sibyl the next day. The following afternoon, however, Lord Henry brings news that Sibyl has killed herself. At Lord Henry’s urging, Dorian decides to consider her death a sort of artistic triumph—she personified tragedy—and to put the matter behind him. Meanwhile, Dorian hides his portrait in a remote upper room of his house, where no one other than he can watch its transformation.

Lord Henry gives Dorian a book that describes the wicked exploits of a nineteenth-century Frenchman; it becomes Dorian’s bible as he sinks ever deeper into a life of sin and corruption. He lives a life devoted to garnering new experiences and sensations with no regard for conventional standards of morality or the consequences of his actions. Eighteen years pass. Dorian’s reputation suffers in circles of polite London society, where rumors spread regarding his scandalous exploits. His peers nevertheless continue to accept him because he remains young and beautiful. The figure in the painting, however, grows increasingly wizened and hideous. On a dark, foggy night, Basil Hallward arrives at Dorian’s home to confront him about the rumors that plague his reputation. The two argue, and Dorian eventually offers Basil a look at his (Dorian’s) soul. He shows Basil the now-hideous portrait, and Hallward, horrified, begs him to repent. Dorian claims it is too late for penance and kills Basil in a fit of rage.

In order to dispose of the body, Dorian employs the help of an estranged friend, a doctor, whom he blackmails. The night after the murder, Dorian makes his way to an opium den, where he encounters James Vane, who attempts to avenge Sibyl’s death. Dorian escapes to his country estate. While entertaining guests, he notices James Vane peering in through a window, and he becomes wracked by fear and guilt. When a hunting party accidentally shoots and kills Vane, Dorian feels safe again. He resolves to amend his life but cannot muster the courage to confess his crimes, and the painting now reveals his supposed desire to repent for what it is—hypocrisy. In a fury, Dorian picks up the knife he used to stab Basil Hallward and attempts to destroy the painting. There is a crash, and his servants enter to find the portrait, unharmed, showing Dorian Gray as a beautiful young man. On the floor lies the body of their master—an old man, horribly wrinkled and disfigured, with a knife plunged into his heart.

 

source: spark notes

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY – Oscar Wilde

Analysis of Major Characters

Dorian Gray

At the opening of the novel, Dorian Gray exists as something of an ideal: he is the archetype of male youth and beauty. As such, he captures the imagination of Basil Hallward, a painter, and Lord Henry Wotton, a nobleman who imagines fashioning the impressionable Dorian into an unremitting pleasure-seeker. Dorian is exceptionally vain and becomes convinced, in the course of a brief conversation with Lord Henry, that his most salient characteristics—his youth and physical attractiveness—are ever waning. The thought of waking one day without these attributes sends Dorian into a tailspin: he curses his fate and pledges his soul if only he could live without bearing the physical burdens of aging and sinning. He longs to be as youthful and lovely as the masterpiece that Basil has painted of him, and he wishes that the portrait could age in his stead. His vulnerability and insecurity in these moments make him excellent clay for Lord Henry’s willing hands.

Dorian soon leaves Basil’s studio for Lord Henry’s parlor, where he adopts the tenets of “the new Hedonism” and resolves to live his life as a pleasure-seeker with no regard for conventional morality. His relationship with Sibyl Vane tests his commitment to this philosophy: his love of the young actress nearly leads him to dispense with Lord Henry’s teachings, but his love proves to be as shallow as he is. When he breaks Sibyl’s heart and drives her to suicide, Dorian notices the first change in his portrait—evidence that his portrait is showing the effects of age and experience while his body remains ever youthful. Dorian experiences a moment of crisis, as he weighs his guilt about his treatment of Sibyl against the freedom from worry that Lord Henry’s philosophy has promised. When Dorian decides to view Sibyl’s death as the achievement of an artistic ideal rather than a needless tragedy for which he is responsible, he starts down the steep and slippery slope of his own demise.

As Dorian’s sins grow worse over the years, his likeness in Basil’s portrait grows more hideous. Dorian seems to lack a conscience, but the desire to repent that he eventually feels illustrates that he is indeed human. Despite the beautiful things with which he surrounds himself, he is unable to distract himself from the dissipation of his soul. His murder of Basil marks the beginning of his end: although in the past he has been able to sweep infamies from his mind, he cannot shake the thought that he has killed his friend. Dorian’s guilt tortures him relentlessly until he is forced to do away with his portrait. In the end, Dorian seems punished by his ability to be influenced: if the new social order celebrates individualism, as Lord Henry claims, Dorian falters because he fails to establish and live by his own moral code.

Lord Henry Wotto

Lord Henry is a man possessed of “wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories.” He is a charming talker, a famous wit, and a brilliant intellect. Given the seductive way in which he leads conversation, it is little wonder that Dorian falls under his spell so completely. Lord Henry’s theories are radical; they aim to shock and purposefully attempt to topple established, untested, or conventional notions of truth. In the end, however, they prove naïve, and Lord Henry himself fails to realize the implications of most of what he says.

Lord Henry is a relatively static character—he does not undergo a significant change in the course of the narrative. He is as coolly composed, unshakable, and possessed of the same dry wit in the final pages of the novel as he is upon his introduction. Because he does not change while Dorian and Basil clearly do, his philosophy seems amusing and enticing in the first half of the book, but improbable and shallow in the second. Lord Henry muses in Chapter Nineteen, for instance, that there are no immoral books; he claims that “[t]he books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” But since the decadent book that Lord Henry lends Dorian facilitates Dorian’s downfall, it is difficult to accept what Lord Henry says as true.

Although Lord Henry is a self-proclaimed hedonist who advocates the equal pursuit of both moral and immoral experience, he lives a rather staid life. He participates in polite London society and attends parties and the theater, but he does not indulge in sordid behavior. Unlike Dorian, he does not lead innocent youths to suicide or travel incognito to the city’s most despised and desperate quarters. Lord Henry thus has little notion of the practical effects of his philosophy. His claim that Dorian could never commit a murder because “[c]rime belongs exclusively to the lower orders” demonstrates the limitations of his understanding of the human soul. It is not surprising, then, that he fails to appreciate the profound meaning of Dorian’s downfall.

Basil Hallward

 

William Blake

William Blake

1757–1827

William Blake

In his Life of William Blake(1863) Alexander Gilchrist warned his readers that Blake “neither wrote nor drew for the many, hardly for work’y-day men at all, rather for children and angels; himself ‘a divine child,’ whose playthings were sun, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth.” Yet Blake himself believed that his writings were of national importance and that they could be understood by a majority of men. Far from being an isolated mystic, Blake lived and worked in the teeming metropolis of London at a time of great social and political change that profoundly influenced his writing. After the peace established in 1762, the British Empire seemed secure, but the storm wave begun with the American Revolution in 1775 and the French Revolution in 1789 changed forever the way men looked at their relationship to the state and to the established church. Poet, painter, and engraver, Blake worked to bring about a change both in the social order and in the minds of men.

One may wonder how a child born in moderate surroundings would become such an original artist and powerful writer. Unlike many well-known writers of his day, Blake was born into a family of moderate means. His father, James, was a hosier, one who sells stockings, gloves, and haberdashery, and the family lived at 28 Broad Street in London in an unpretentious but “respectable” neighborhood. Blake was born on 28 November 1757. In all, seven children were born to James and Catherine Harmitage Blake, but only five survived infancy. Blake seems to have been closest to his youngest brother, Robert, who died while yet young.

By all accounts Blake had a pleasant and peaceful childhood, made even more pleasant by his skipping any formal schooling. As a young boy he wandered the streets of London and could easily escape to the surrounding countryside. Even at an early age, however, his unique mental powers would prove disquieting. According to Gilchrist, on one ramble he was startled to “see a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” His parents were not amused at such a story, and only his mother’s pleadings prevented him from receiving a beating.

His parents did, however, encourage his artistic talents, and the young Blake was enrolled at the age of ten in Pars’ drawing school. The expense of continued formal training in art, however, was a prohibitive one, and the family decided that at the age of fourteen William would be apprenticed to a master engraver. At first his father took him to William Ryland, a highly respected engraver. William, however, resisted the arrangement telling his father, “I do not like the man’s face: it looks as if he will live to be hanged!” The grim prophecy was to come true twelve years later. Instead of Ryland the family settled on a lesser-known engraver but a man of considerable talents, James Basire. Basire seems to have been a good master, and Blake was a good student of the craft. Blake was later to be especially grateful to Basire for sending the young student to Westminster Abbey to make drawings of monuments Basire was commissioned to engrave. The vast Gothic dimensions of Westminster and the haunting presence of the tombs of kings affected Blake’s romantic sensibilities and were to provide fertile ground for his active imagination.

At the age of twenty-one Blake left Basire’s apprenticeship and enrolled for a time in the newly formed Royal Academy. It was as a journeyman engraver, however, that Blake earned his living. Booksellers employed him to engrave illustrations for publications ranging from novels such as Don Quixote to serials such as Ladies’ Magazine.

One incident at this time affected Blake deeply. In June of 1780 riots broke out in London incited by the anti-Catholic preaching of Lord George Gordon but also by resistance to continued war against the American colonists. Houses, churches, and prisons were burned by uncontrollable mobs bent on destruction. On one evening, whether by design or by accident, Blake found himself at the front of the mob that burned Newgate prison. These images of violent destruction and unbridled revolution gave Blake powerful material for works such as Europe (1794) andAmerica (1793).

Not all of the young man’s interests were confined to art and politics. After one ill-fated romance, Blake met Catherine Boucher, an attractive and compassionate woman who took pity on Blake’s tales of being spurned. After a year’s courtship the couple were married on 18 August 1782. The parish registry shows that Catherine, like many women of her class, could not sign her own name. Blake soon taught her to read and to write, and under Blake’s tutoring she also became an accomplished draftsman, helping him in the execution of his designs.

By all accounts the marriage was a successful one, but no children were born to the Blakes. Catherine also managed the household affairs and was undoubtedly of great help in making ends meet on Blake’s always limited income.

Blake’s friend John Flaxman introduced Blake to the bluestocking Harriet Mathew, wife of the Rev. Henry Mathew and a celebrated lady of fashion whose drawing room was often a meeting place for artists and musicians. There Blake gained favor by reciting and even singing his early poems. Thanks to the support of Flaxman and Mrs. Mathew, a thin volume of poems was published under the title Poetical Sketches(1783). Many of these poems are imitations of classical models, much like the sketches of models of antiquity the young artist made to learn his trade. Even here, however, one sees signs of Blake’s protest against war and the tyranny of kings. David Erdman argues that the ballad “Gwin, King of Norway” is a protest against King George’s treatment of the American colonies, a subject Blake treated more extensively in America (1793). Only about fifty copies of Poetical Sketches are known to have been printed. Blake’s financial enterprises also did not fare well. In 1784, after his father’s death, Blake used part of the money he inherited to set up shop as a printseller with his friend James Parker. The Blakes moved to 27 Broad Street, next door to the family home and close to Blake’s brothers. The business did not do well, however, and the Blakes soon moved out.

Of more concern to Blake was the deteriorating health of his favorite brother, Robert. Blake tended to his brother in his illness and according to Gilchrist watched the spirit of his brother escape his body in his death: “At the last solemn moment, the visionary eyes beheld the released spirit ascend heaven ward through the matter-of-fact ceiling, ‘clapping its hands for joy.'”

Blake always felt the spirit of Robert lived with him. He even announced that it was Robert who informed him how to illustrate his poems in “illuminated writing.” Blake’s technique was to produce his text and design on a copper plate with an impervious liquid. The plate was then dipped in acid so that the text and design remained in relief. That plate could be used to print on paper, and the final copy would be then hand colored.

After experimenting with this method in a series of aphorisms entitled There is No Natural Religion and All Religions are One (1788?), Blake designed the series of plates for the poems entitled Songs of Innocence and dated the title page 1789. Blake continued to experiment with the process of illuminated writing and in 1794 combined the early poems with companion poems entitled Songs of Experience. The title page of the combined set announces that the poems show “the two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” Clearly Blake meant for the two series of poems to be read together, and Robert Gleckner has pointed out in reading the poems one should always consider the point of view of the speaker of the poem and the context of the situation.

The introductory poems to each series display Blake’s dual image of the poet as both a “piper” and a “Bard.” As man goes through various stages of innocence and experience in the poems, the poet also is in different stages of innocence and experience. The pleasant lyrical aspect of poetry is shown in the role of the “piper” while the more somber prophetic nature of poetry is displayed by the stern Bard.

In the “Introduction” to Songs of Innocence, Blake presents the poet in the form of a simple shepherd: “Piping down the valleys wild / Piping songs of pleasant glee.” The frontispiece displays a young shepherd simply dressed and holding a pipe, and it is clear Blake is establishing a pastoral world. The “piping songs” are poems of pure pleasure.

The songs of pleasure are interrupted by the visionary appearance of an angel who asks for songs of more seriousness:


“Pipe a song about a Lamb!”

So I piped with merry chear.

“Piper, pipe that song again.”

So I piped: he wept to hear.

The piper is no longer playing his songs for his own enjoyment. Now the piper is in the position of a poet playing at the request of an appreciative audience. The “song about a Lamb” suggests a poem about the “Lamb of God,” Christ.

The child commands that the poet not keep the songs for himself but share them with his audience:


“Piper sit thee down and write

In a book that all may read.”

So he vanish’d from my sight

And I pluck’d a hollow reed.

The “book” is Songs of Innocence, which is designed in a form that “all may read.” The simple piper is now a true poet. He no longer writes only for his own enjoyment but for the delight of his audience. The piper is inspired by the directions of the child, and the poet is inspired by his vision of his audience. The child vanishes as the author interiorizes his vision of his audience and makes it a central part of his work. Immediately after the child’s disappearance, the author begins the actual physical composition of the poem by plucking the hollow reed for his poem. At the end of the poem the poet is no longer the simple shepherd of Arcadia playing for his own amusement. Now he writes his poems for “Every child” of England.

The “Introduction” to Songs of Experience is a companion to the earlier poem, and, as a poem written in the state of experience, it presents a different view of the nature of the poet and his relation to his audience.

The strident tone of the first stanza provides a marked contrast to the gentle piping of the first poem and reminds us that we are now in the state of experience:


Hear the voice of the Bard!

Who Present, Past and Future sees:

Whose ears have heard

The Holy Word

That walk’d among the ancient trees.

This is not an invocation, but a direct command to the reader to sit up and pay attention. Instead of playing at the request of his audience, the poet now demands that his reader listen to him. The speaker now has authority because of what he has heard. The voice of the poet is that of the ancient Bard and that also of the biblical prophet who has heard the “Holy Word,” the word of God. Assuming the role of the prophet and the Bard gives the modern poet a sense of biblical authority to speak on matters sacred and profane.

With his authority, the Bard is more willing to instruct his audience than is the piper. The Bard repeats the call of the Holy Word to fallen man. The message repeated by the Bard is that man still “might control” the world of nature and bring back the “fallen light” of vision.

Blake presents two sides of his view of the poet in these introductory poems. Neither one should be dismissed in favor of the other. The poet is both a pleasant piper playing at the request of his audience and a stern Bard lecturing an entire nation. In part this is Blake’s interpretation of the ancient dictum that poetry should both delight and instruct. More important, for Blake the poet is a man who speaks both from the personal experience of his own vision and from the “inherited” tradition of ancient Bards and prophets who carried the Holy Word to the nations.

In reading any of the poems, one has to be aware of the mental “state” of the speaker of the poems. In some cases the speakers address the same issue, but from entirely different perspectives. The child of “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Innocencelives in deplorable conditions and is clearly exploited by those around him: “So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.” Yet in his childish state he explains away his misery with a dream of a promised afterlife where God will be his father and he will “never want joy.” The same issue of child exploitation is addressed in “The Chimney Sweeper” of Songs of Experience. The speaker is also a child, but one who understands the social forces that have reduced him to misery:


“And because I am happy, & dance & sing

They think they have done me no injury.

And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King.

Who make up a heaven of our misery.”

In each poem the reader can see what the speaker can not always see because of his unique perspective: religion and government share a responsibility in the persecution of children.

The famous companion poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” are also written on the same subject: man’s conception of God. Yet, how man understands God depends on man’s view of God’s divinity. In “The Lamb” the speaker makes the traditional association between a lamb and the “Lamb of God,” Christ:


For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild;

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb.

The speaker sees God in terms he can understand. God is gentle and kind and very much like us. The close association between the “I,” “child,” and “lamb” suggests that all men share in the same spiritual brotherhood.

The speaker in “The Tyger” also sees God in terms he can understand, but he sees him from a different perspective. The raging violence of the animal forces him to ask what kind of God could create such terror:


When the stars threw down their spears,

And water’d heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

The answer, of course, is never given, but again the reader should be able to perceive more than the speaker of the poem. God did make both the lamb and the tyger, and his nature contains both the gentleness of the lamb and the violence of the tyger. Neither perspective is true by itself; both have to be understood.

The two states of innocence and experience are not always clearly separate in the poems, and one can see signs of both states in many poems. The companion poems titled “Holy Thursday” are on the same subject, the forced marching of poor children to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The speaker in the state of innocence approves warmly of the progression of children:


‘Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean

The children walking two & two in red & blue & green

Grey headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow

Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow[.]

The brutal irony is that in this world of truly “innocent” children there are evil men who repress the children, round them up like so many herd of cattle, and force them to show their piety. In this state of innocence, experience is very much present.

The speaker of the companion “Holy Thursday” presents an entirely different perspective:


Is this a holy thing to see,

In a rich and fruitful land,

Babes reduc’d to misery,

Fed with cold and usurous hand?

The speaker of experience understands that the children have been brutalized and places the blame for this condition not just on the “Grey headed beadles” who have direct responsibility for the children but on the country at large. In a “rich and fruitful land” like England, it is appalling that children are allowed to suffer:


For where-e’er the sun does shine,

And where-e’er the rain does fall:

Babe can never hunger there,

Nor poverty the mind appall[.]

If experience has a way of creeping into the world of innocence, innocence also has a way of creeping into experience. The golden land where the “sun does shine” and the “rain does fall” is a land of bountiful goodness and innocence. But even here in this blessed land, there are children starving. The sharp contrast between the two conditions makes the social commentary all the more striking and supplies the energy of the poem.

The contrast between innocence and experience is also apparent in another illuminated book produced in 1789, The Book of Thel. Thel is a maiden who laments the passing of youth and of innocence: “O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water, / Why fade these children of the spring, born but to smile & fall?” Thel questions elements of nature, like the Lilly of the Valley and the Cloud, that are beautiful but transitory. Yet each understands that the transitory nature of beauty is necessary. The Cloud answers Thel’s complaint by saying that “Every thing that lives / Lives not alone nor for itself.” Thel is innocent but when one is stuck in a state of innocence there can be no growth.

Thel is allowed to enter into the world of experience, and she is startled by a voice from her own grave:


“Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy?

Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?”

The Virgin is shocked by this peek into her own sexuality and mortality and runs back to the quiet vales of Har “with a shriek.” Blake satirizes those who are unable to see the necessary connection between innocence and experience, the spiritual world and the physical world. Thel’s world of soft watercolors is not enough. She cannot understand that even the lowly worm is loved by God and serves his part in creating life.

The storming of the Bastille in Paris in 1789 and the agonies of the French Revolution sent shock waves through England. Some hoped for a corresponding outbreak of liberty in England while others feared a breakdown of the social order. In much of his writing Blake argues against the monarchy. In his early Tiriel (written circa 1789) Blake traces the fall of a tyrannical king.

Politics was surely often the topic of conversation at the publisher Joseph Johnson’s house, where Blake was often invited. There Blake met important literary and political figures such as William Godwin, Joseph Priestly, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Paine. According to one legend Blake is even said to have saved Paine’s life by warning him of his impending arrest. Whether or not that is true, it is clear that Blake was familiar with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day.

In The French Revolution Blake celebrates the rise of democracy in France and the fall of the monarchy. King Louis represents a monarchy that is old and dying. The sick king is lethargic and unable to act: “From my window I see the old mountains of France, like aged men, fading away.” The “old mountains” of monarchy are doomed to collapse under the pressure of the people and their representatives in the assembly. The “voice of the people” demands the removal of the king’s troops from Paris, and their departure at the end of the first book signals the triumph of democracy.

On the title page for book one of The French Revolution Blake announces that it is “A Poem in Seven Books,” but none of the other books has been found. The “Advertisement” to the poem promises “The remaining Books of the Poem are finished, and will be published in their Order.” The first book was set in type in 1791, but exists only in proof copies. Johnson never published the poem, perhaps because of fear of prosecution, or perhaps because Blake himself withdrew it from publication. Johnson did have cause to be nervous. Erdman points out that in the same year booksellers were thrown in jail for selling the works of Thomas Paine.

In America (1793) Blake also addresses the idea of revolution, but the poem is less a commentary on the actual revolution in America as it is a commentary on universal principles that are at work in any revolution. The fiery figure of Orc represents all revolutions:


The fiery joy, that Urizen perverted to ten commands,

What night he led the starry hosts thro’ the wide wilderness,

That stony law I stamp to dust; and scatter religion abroad

To the four winds as a torn book, & none shall gather the leaves.

The same force that causes the colonists to rebel against King George is the force that overthrows the perverted rules and restrictions of established religions.

The revolution in America suggests to Blake a similar revolution in England. In the poem the king, like the ancient pharaohs of Egypt, sends pestilence to America to punish the rebels, but the colonists are able to redirect the forces of destruction to England. Erdman suggests that Blake is thinking of the riots in England during the war and the chaotic condition of the English troops, many of whom deserted. Writing this poem in the 1790s, Blake also surely imagined the possible effect of the French Revolution on England.

Another product of the radical 1790s is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Written and etched between 1790 and 1793, Blake’s poem brutally satirizes oppressive authority in church and state. The poem also satirizes the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish philosopher whose ideas once attracted Blake’s interests.

The powerful opening of the poem suggests a world of violence: “Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burden’d air / Hungry clouds swag on the deep.” The fire and smoke suggest a battlefield and the chaos of revolution. The cause of that chaos is analyzed at the beginning of the poem. The world has been turned upside down. The “just man” has been turned away from the institutions of church and state, and in his place are fools and hypocrites who preach law and order but create chaos. Those who proclaim restrictive moral rules and oppressive laws as “goodness” are in themselves evil. Hence to counteract this repression, Blake announces that he is of the “Devil’s Party” that will advocate freedom and energy and gratified desire.

The “Proverbs of Hell” are clearly designed to shock the reader out of his commonplace notion of what is good and what is evil:


Prisons are built with stones of Law,

Brothels with bricks of Religion.

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.

The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.

The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.

The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

It is the oppressive nature of church and state that has created the repulsive prisons and brothels. Sexual energy is not an inherent “evil,” but the repression of that energy is. The preachers of morality fail to understand that God is in all things, including the sexual nature of men and women.

Blake is, of course, not advocating moral and political anarchy, but a proper balance of energy and its opposing force, reason. Reason is defined as “the bound or outward circumference of Energy.” Reason is a vital and necessary force to define Energy, and “Without Contraries is no progression.” The problem now is that the forces of reason have predominated, and the forces of energy must be let loose.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell contains many of the basic religious ideas developed in the major prophecies. Blake analyzes the development of organized religion as a perversion of ancient visions: “The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & Numerous senses could perceive.” Ancient man created those gods to express his vision of the spiritual properties that he perceived in the physical world. So far, so good, but the gods began to take on a life of their own separate from man: “Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of, & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood.” The “system” or organized religion keeps man from perceiving the spiritual in the physical. The gods are seen as separate from man, and an elite race of priests is developed to approach the gods: “Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.” Instead of looking for God on remote altars, Blake warns, man should look within.

In August of 1790 Blake moved from his house on Poland Street across the Thames to the area known as Lambeth. The Blakes lived in the house for ten years, and the surrounding neighborhood often becomes mythologized in his poetry. Felpham was a “lovely vale,” a place of trees and open meadows, but it also contained signs of human cruelty, such as the house for orphans. At his home Blake kept busy not only with his illuminated poetry but also with the daily chore of making money. During the 1790s Blake earned fame as an engraver and was glad to receive numerous commissions.

One story told by Blake’s friend Thomas Butts shows how much the Blakes enjoyed the pastoral surroundings of Lambeth. At the end of Blake’s garden was a small summer house, and coming to call on the Blakes one day Butts was shocked to find the couple stark naked: “Come in!” cried Blake; “it’s only Adam and Eve you know!” The Blakes were reciting passages from Paradise Lost, apparently “in character.”

Sexual freedom is addressed in Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), also written during the Lambeth period. Oothoon, the “soft soul of America,” expresses her unrestricted love for Theotormon who cannot accept such love because he is limited by jealousy and possessiveness. In the poem Oothoon is raped by Bromion, and the enraged Theotormon binds the two together. The frontispiece to the book shows Bromion and Oothoon back-to-back with their arms bound together while Theotormon, hunched over, stares at the ground. The relationship between Bromion and Oothoon is like that of marriage that is held together only by laws and not by love. In her lament to Theotormon, Oothoon denounces the destruction of a woman’s sexual desire:


Till she who burns with youth, and knows no fixed lot, is bound

In spells of law to one she loathes? and must she drag the chain

Of life in weary lust?

The marriage “spells of law” bind a woman to man much like a slave is bound to a master, and marriage can become, in Mary Wollstonecraft’s phrase, a form of “legalized prostitution.”

Oothoon calls for the freedom of desire: “Open to joy and to delight where ever beauty appears” and even promises to provide women for Theotormon to enjoy “in lovely copulation,” but Theotormon, bound by law and custom, cannot accept such love.

In 1793-1795 Blake produced a remarkable collection of illuminated works that have come to be known as the “Minor Prophecies.” In Europe (1794), The First Book of Urizen (1794), The Book of Los (1795), The Song of Los (1795), and The Book of Ahania (1795) Blake develops the major outlines of his universal mythology. In these poems Blake examines the fall of man. In Blake’s mythology man and God were once united, but man separated himself from God and became weaker and weaker as he became further divided. Throughout the poems Blake writes of the destructive aspects of this separation into warring identities.

The narrative of the universal mythology is interwoven with the historical events of Blake’s own time. The execution of King Louis XVI in 1793 led to an inevitable reaction, and England soon declared war on France. England’s participation in the war against France and its attempt to quell the revolutionary spirit is addressed inEurope . In Blake’s poem liberty is repressed in England after it declares war on France:


Over the windows Thou shalt not; & over the chimneys

Fear is written

With bands of iron round their necks fasten’d into

the walls of citizens

The very force of that repression, however, will cause its opposite to appear in the revolutionary figure of Orc: “And in the vineyards of reds France appear’d the light of his fury.” Orc promises fire and destruction, but he also wars against the forces of repression.

Blake’s minor prophecies are, of course, much more than political commentaries. In these poems Blake analyzes the universal forces at work when repression and revolution clash. Erdman has pointed out the historical parallel in Europe between Rintrah and William Pitt, the English Prime Minister who led his country into war against France. Yet in the same poem we see references to repression from the time of Christ to the Last Judgement. Blake saw English repression of the French Revolution as but one moment in the stream of history.

The causes of that repression are examined in The First Book of Urizen. The wordUrizen suggests “your reason” and also “horizon.” He represents that part of the mind that constantly defines and limits human thought and action. In the frontispiece to the poem he is pictured as an aged man hunched over a massive book writing with both hands in other books. Behind him stand the tablets of the ten commandments, and Urizen is surely writing other “thou shalt nots” for others to follow. His twisted anatomical position shows the perversity of what should be the “human form divine.”

The poem traces the birth of Urizen as a separate part of the human mind. He broods upon himself and comes to insist on laws for all to follow:


“One command, one joy, one desire

One curse, one weight, one measure,

One King, one God, one Law.”

Urizen’s repressive laws bring only further chaos and destruction. Like Milton’s hell, Urizen’s world is filled with the contradictions of darkness and fire: “no light from the fires.” The lawgiver can only produce destruction, not understanding. Appalled by the chaos he himself created, Urizen fashions a world apart.

The process of separation continues as the character of Los is divided from Urizen. Los, the “Eternal Prophet,” represents another power of the human mind. Los forges the creative aspects of the mind into works of art. Like Urizen he is a limiter, but the limitations he creates are productive and necessary. In the poem Los forms “nets and gins” to bring an end to Urizen’s continual chaotic separation.

Los is horrified by the figure of the bound Urizen and is separated by his pity, “for Pity divides the Soul.” Los undergoes a separation into a male and female form. His female form is called Enitharmon, and her creation is viewed with horror:


Eternity shudder’d when they saw

Man begetting his likeness

On his own divided image.

This separation into separate sexual identities is yet another sign of man’s fall. The “Eternals” contain both male and female forms within themselves, but man is divided and weak.

Enitharmon gives birth to the fiery Orc, whose violent birth gives some hope for radical change in a fallen world, but Orc is bound in chains by Los, now a victim of jealousy. Enitharmon bears an “enormous race,” but it is a race of men and women who are weak and divided and who have lost sight of eternity.

Urizen explores the fallen world, spreading his “Net of Religion” over the cities of men:


And their children wept, & built

Tombs in the desolate places,

And form’d laws of prudence, and call’d them

The eternal laws of God.

In his fallen state man has limited senses and fails to perceive the infinite. Divided from God and caught by the narrow traps of religion, he sees God only as a crude lawgiver who must be obeyed.

The Book of Los also examines man’s fall and the binding of Urizen, but from the perspective of Los whose task it is to place a limit on the chaotic separation begun by Urizen. The decayed world is again one of ignorance where there is “no light from the fires.” From this chaos the bare outlines of the human form begin to appear:


Many ages of groans, till there grew

Branchy forms organizing the Human

Into finite inflexible organs.

The human senses are pale imitations of the true senses that allow one to perceive eternity. Urizen’s world where man now lives is spoken of as an “illusion” because it masks the spiritual world that is everywhere present.

In The Song of Los, Los sings of the decayed state of man, where the arbitrary laws of Urizen have become institutionalized:


Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave

Laws & Religions to the sons of Har, binding them more

And more to Earth, closing and restraining,

Till a Philosophy of five Senses was complete.

Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke.

The “philosophy of the five senses” espoused by scientists and philosophers argues that the world and the mind are like industrial machines operating by fixed laws but devoid of imagination, creativity, or any spiritual life. Blake condemns this materialistic view of the world espoused in the writings of Newton and Locke.

Although man is in a fallen state, the end of the poem points to the regeneration that is to come:


Orc, raging in European darkness,

Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps,

Like a serpent of fiery flame!

The coming of Orc is likened not only to the fires of revolution sweeping Europe, but also to the final apocalypse when the “Grave shrieks with delight.”

The separation of man is also examined in The Book of Ahania, which Blake later incorporated in Vala, or The Four Zoas. In The Book of Ahania Urizen is further divided into male and female forms. Urizen is repulsed by his feminine shadow that is called Ahania:


He groan’d anguish’d, & called her Sin,

Kissing her and weeping over her;

Then hid her in darkness, in silence,

Jealous, tho’ she was invisible.

Blake satirizes the biblical and Miltonic associations of sin and lust. “Ahania” in Blake’s poem is only a “sin” in that she is given that name. Urizen, the lawgiver, can not accept the liberating aspects of sexual pleasure. At the end of the poem, Ahania laments the lost pleasures of eternity:


“Where is my golden palace?

Where my ivory bed?

Where the joy of my morning hour?

Where the sons of eternity singing.”

The physical pleasures of sexual union are celebrated as an entrance to a spiritual state. The physical union of man and woman is sign of the spiritual union that is to come.

At the same time as he was writing these individual poems that center on aspects of man’s fall, Blake was also composing an epic poem on the fall of man into separate identities. Blake originally called the poem Vala and later changed the name to The Four Zoas. He worked on the poem for a number of years but never completed it. It survives in manuscript form with rough designs for illustrations, but it never became one of the “illuminated books.”

The Four Zoas is subtitled “The Torments of Love and Jealousy in the Death and Judgement of Albion the Ancient Man,” and the poem develops Blake’s myth of Albion, who represents both the country of England and the unification of all men. Albion is composed of “Four Mighty Ones”: Tharmas, Urthona, Urizen, and Luvah. Originally, in “Eden,” these four exist in the unity of “The Universal Brotherhood.” At this early time all parts of man lived in perfect harmony, but now they are fallen into warring camps. The poem traces the changes in Albion:


His fall into Division & his Resurrection to Unity:

His fall into the Generation of decay & death, & his

Regeneration by the Resurrection from the dead.

The poem begins with Tharmas and examines the fall of each aspect of man’s identity. The poem progresses from disunity toward unity as each Zoa moves toward final unification.

In the apocalyptic “Night the Ninth,” the evils of oppression are overturned in the turmoil of the Last Judgment:


The thrones of Kings are shaken, they have lost their robes & crowns

The poor smite their oppressors, they awake up to the harvest.

The final overthrow of all kings and tyrants that earthly revolutions tried but failed to achieve will be accomplished on the last day. The “harvest” imagery is from the Book of Revelations and represents the process of gathering and discarding that marks the progress of man’s soul on the last day.

As dead men are rejuvenated, Christ, the “Lamb of God,” is brought back to life and sheds the evils of institutionalized religions:


Thus shall the male & female live the life of Eternity,

Because the Lamb of God Creates himself a bride & wife

That we his Children evermore may live in Jerusalem

Which now descendeth out of heaven, a City, yet a Woman

Mother of myriads redeem’d & born in her spiritual palaces,

By a New Spiritual birth Regenerated from Death.

The heavenly City of Jerusalem is the true form of God’s church. The earthly city of Jerusalem and the numerous forms of religions are but pale imitations of that true religion where God and the church are joined. In that City man’s separate identities are reunited, and man is reunited with God.

Very little of Blake’s poetry of the 1790s was known to the general public. His reputation as an artist was mixed. Response to his art ranged from praise to derision, but he did gain some fame as an engraver. He received several commissions, the most important probably being his illustrations to Edward Young’s Night Thoughts. In 1795 the publisher and bookseller Richard Edwards commissioned Blake to illustrate the then-famous poems of Young. Blake produced 537 watercolor designs of which 43 were selected for engraving. The first volume of a projected four-volume series was published in 1797. However, the project did not prove financially successful, and no further volumes were published. After the disappointment of that project, Blake’s friend and admirer Flaxman commissioned Blake to illustrate the poems of Thomas Gray. Blake painted 116 watercolors and completed the project in 1798. Blake was also aided by his friend Thomas Butts, who commissioned a series of biblical paintings. His commissions did not produce much in the way of income, but Blake never seems to have been discouraged. In 1799 Blake wrote to George Cumberland, “I laugh at Fortune & Go on & on.”

Because of his monetary woes, Blake often had to depend on the benevolence of patrons of the arts. This sometimes led to heated exchanges between the independent artist and the wealthy patron. Dr. John Trusler was one such patron whom Blake failed to please. Dr. Trusler was something of a dabbler in a variety of fields. Aside from being a clergyman, he was a student of medicine, a bookseller, and the author of such works as Hogarth Moralized (1768), The Way to be Rich and Respectable (1750?), and A Sure Way to Lengthen Life with Vigor (circa 1819). Blake’s friend Cumberland had recommended Blake to Trusler in hopes of providing some needed income for Blake. Blake, however, found himself unable to follow the clergyman’s wishes: “I attempted every morning for a fortnight together to follow your Dictate, but when I found my attempts were in vain, resolv’d to shew an independence which I know will please an Author better than slavishly following the track of another, however admirable that track may be. At any rate, my Excuse must be: I could not do otherwise; it was out of my power!” Dr. Trusler was not convinced and replied that he found Blake’s “Fancy” to be located in the “World of Spirits” and not in this world.

Blake’s rebuttal is a classic defense of his own principles. To the charge that Blake needed someone to “elucidate” his idea, Blake replied with characteristic wrath: “That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients consider’d what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it rouzes the faculities to act.” Blake relies on a basic principle of rhetoric that is evident in his writing: it is often best to leave some things unsaid so that the reader must employ his imagination. To the charge that his visions were not of this world, Blake replied that he had seen his visions in this world, but not all men see alike: “As a man is, So he Sees. As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers. You certainly Mistake, when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not to be found in This World. To Me This World is all One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination.” The problem then is not the location of Blake’s subjects, but the relative ability of man to perceive. If Dr. Trusler could not understand Blake’s drawings, the problem was his inability to see with the imagination.

Dr. Trusler was not the only patron that tried to make Blake conform to popular tastes. Blake’s stormy relation to his erstwhile friend and patron William Hayley directly affected the writing of the epics Milton and Jerusalem. When Blake met him Hayley was a well-known man of letters who had produced several popular volumes of poetry. His Triumphs of Temper (1781), which admonishes women to control their tempers in order to be good wives, was very popular. In 1800 under Hayley’s promptings Blake moved from London to the village of Felpham, where Hayley lived. It was expected that Blake would receive numerous engraving commissions, and his financial problems would disappear.

Hayley did provide Blake with some small commissions. Blake began work on a series of eighteen “Heads of the Poets” for Hayley’s library and worked on the engravings for Hayley’s Life of Cowper (1802). Hayley also set Blake to work on a series of small portraits, but Blake soon bristled under the watchful eye of his patron. In January of 1803 Blake wrote to Butts that “I find on all hands great objections to my doing anything but the meer drudgery of business, & intimations that if I do not confine myself to this, I shall not live; this has always pursu’d me.” In the same letter Blake argued that his duty to his art must take precedence to the necessity of making money: “But if we fear to do the dictates of our Angels, & tremble at the Tasks set before us; if we refuse to do Spiritual Acts because of natural Fears of natural Desires! Who can describe the dismal torments of such a state!”

The “Spiritual Acts” Blake referred to include the writing of his epic poetry despite Hayley’s objections. In the same month Blake wrote to his brother James that he is determined “To leave This Place” and that he can no longer accept Hayley’s patronage: “The truth is, As a Poet he is frighten’d at me & as a Painter his view & mine are opposite; he thinks to turn me into a Portrait Painter as he did Poor Romney, but this he nor all the devils in hell will never do.”

Blake left Felpham in 1803 and returned to London. In April of that year he wrote to Butts that he was overjoyed to return to the city: “That I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoy’d, & that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & Prophecy & Speak Parables unobserv’d & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals.” In the same letter Blake refers to his epic poem Milton, composed while at Felpham: “But none can know the Spiritual Acts of my three years’ Slumber on the banks of the Ocean, unless he has seen them in the Spirit, or unless he should read My long Poem descriptive of those Acts.”

In a later letter to Butts, Blake declares his resolution to have Milto

printed:

This Poem shall, by Divine Assistance be progressively Printed & Ornamented with Prints & given to the Public. But of this work I take care to say little to Mr H., since he is as much averse to my poetry as he is to a Chapter in the Bible. He knows that I have writ it, for I have shewn it to him, & he has read Part by his own desire & has looked with sufficient contempt to inhance my opinion of it. But I do not wish to irritate by seeming too obstinate in Poetic pursuits. But if all the World should set their faces against This, I have Orders to set my face like flint (Ezekiel iiiC, 9v) against their faces, & my forehead against their foreheads.

Blake’s letter reveals much of his attitude toward his patron and toward his readers. Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by the general public, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular. Men of letters such as Hayley would not be allowed to dictate his art. Blake compares himself to the prophet Ezekiel, whom the Lord made strong to warn the Israelites of their wickedness. Blake’s images of a stern prophet locked head to head with his adversary is a fitting picture of part of Blake’s relation with his reader. Blake knew that his poetry would be derided by some readers. In Milton Blake tells us that “the idiot reasoner laughs at the Man of Imagination,” and in the face of that laughter Blake remained resolute.

In his “slumber on the banks of the Ocean,” Blake, surrounded by financial worries and hounded by a patron who could not appreciate his art, reflected on the value of visionary poetry. Milton, which Blake started to engrave in 1804 (probably finishing in 1808), is a poem that constantly draws attention to itself as a work of literature. Its ostensible subject is the poet John Milton, but the author, William Blake, also creates a character for himself in his own poem. Blake examines the entire range of mental activity involved in the art of poetry from the initial inspiration of the poet to the reception of his vision by the reader of the poem. Milton examines as part of its subject the very nature of poetry: what it means to be a poet, what a poem is, and what it means to be a reader of poetry.

In the preface to the poem, Blake issues a battle cry to his readers to reject what is merely fashionable in art:

Rouze up, O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court & the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War. Painters! on you I call. Sculptors! Architects! suffer not the fashionable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertizing boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ & his Apostles that there is a Class of men whose whole delight is in Destroying. We do not want either Greek or Roman Models if we are but just & true to our own imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live for ever in Jesus our Lord.

In attacking the “ignorant Hirelings” in the “Camp, the Court & the University,” Blake repeats a familiar dissenting cry against established figures in English society. Blake’s insistence on being “just & true to our own Imaginations” places a special burden on the reader of his poem. For as he makes clear, Blake demands the exercise of the creative imagination from his own readers.

In the well-known lyric that follows, Blake asks for a continuation of Christ’s vision in modern-day England:


I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green & pleasant Land.

The poet-prophet must lead the reader away from man’s fallen state and toward a revitalized state where man can perceive eternity.

“Book the First” contains a poem-within-a-poem, a “Bard’s Prophetic Song.” The Bard’s Song describes man’s fall from a state of vision. We see man’s fall in the ruined form of Albion as a representative of all men and in the fall of Palamabron from his proper position as prophet to a nation. Interwoven into this narrative are the Bard’s addresses to the reader, challenges to the reader’s senses, descriptions of contemporary events and locations in England, and references to the life of William Blake. Blake is at pains to show us that his mythology is not something far removed from us but is part of our day to day life. Blake describes the reader’s own fall from vision and the possibility of regaining those faculties necessary for vision.

The climax of the Bard’s Song is the Bard’s sudden vision of the “Holy Lamb of God”: “Glory! Glory! to the Holy lamb of God: / I touch the heavens as an instrument to glorify the Lord.” The vision of the “Lamb of God” is traditional in apocalyptic literature. In this case the Bard’s final burst of vision is important not only for its content, but also for its placement in the poem. The Bard’s sudden vision of the Lamb of God testifies that man need not remain “in chains of the mind Lock’d up.” The Bard begins by describing the fall from vision, but he ends with a vision of his own that indicates that man still possesses the powers of vision.

At the end of the Bard’s Song, the Bard’s power of vision is questioned much as Blake’s prophecies were criticized. The Bard’s spirit is incorporated into that of the poet Milton. Blake portrays Milton as a great but flawed poet who must unify the separated elements of his own identity before he can reclaim his powers of vision and become a true poet. Upon hearing the Bard’s Song, Milton is moved to descend to earth and begin the process of becoming an inspired poet. It is a journey of intense self-discovery and self-examination that requires Milton to cast off “all that is not inspiration.”

As Milton is presented as a man in the process of becoming a poet, Blake presents himself as a character in the poem undergoing the transformation necessary to become a poet. As Milton is inspired by the “Bard’s Song,” Blake is inspired by the spirit of Milton:


Then first I saw him in the Zenith as a falling star

Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift:

And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enter’d there

But from my left foot a black cloud redounding spread over Europe.

This sudden moment of inspiration extends to the very end of book one. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, the character Blake is not fully aware of the importance of this moment of illumination. Like Milton, Blake is in the process of becoming a poet.

In a moment of sudden inspiration, Blake overcomes his “earthly lineaments” and binds “this Vegetable World” as a sandal under his foot so that he can “walk forward thro’ Eternity.” Blake’s act of creativity enables him to merge with Los:


And I became One Man with him arising in my strength

‘Twas too late now to recede. Los had enter’d into my soul:

His terrors now possess’d me whole! I arose in fury & strength!

Blake’s act of faith in the world of the imagination enables him to increase his powers of perception and sets a pattern for the reader to follow. Blake’s union with Los marks the end of one stage of the unification process that began at the completion of the Bard’s Song. In each case faith in the power of the imagination precedes union.

Only Milton believes in the vision of the Bard’s Song, and the Bard takes “refuge in Milton’s bosom.” As Blake realizes the insignificance of this “Vegetable World,” Los merges with Blake, and he arises in “fury and strength.” This ongoing belief in the hidden powers of the mind heals divisions and increases powers of perception. The Bard, Milton, Los, and Blake begin to merge into a powerful bardic union. Yet it is but one stage in a greater drive toward the unification of all men in a “Universal Brotherhood.”

In the second book of Milton Blake initiates the reader into the order of poets and prophets. Blake continues the process begun in book one of taking the reader through different stages in the growth of a poet. Ololon, Milton’s female form, descends to earth to unite with Milton. Her descent gives the reader a radically new view of this world. Ololon’s unique perspective turns the reader’s world of time and space upside down to make him see the decayed and limited nature of this world. If he can learn to see his familiar world from a new perspective, then the reader can develop his own powers of perception. Indeed “learning to see” is the first requirement of the poet.

The turning of the outside world upside down is a preliminary stage in an extensive examination of man’s internal world. A searching inquiry into the self is a necessary stage in the development of the poet. Milton is told he must first look within: “Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore, / What is Eternal & what Changeable, & what Annihilable.” Milton descends within himself and judges the separate parts of his own identity; he must distinguish between what is permanent and what transitory. Central to the process of judging the self is a confrontation with that destructive part of man’s identity Blake calls the Selfhood. The Selfhood continually hinders man’s spiritual development. Only by annihilating the Selfhood, Blake believes, can one hope to participate in the visionary experience of the poem. Unless the Selfhood is annihilated, one cannot become a true poet, for the Selfhood continually blocks “the human center of creativity.”

The Selfhood places two powerful forces to block our path: the socially accepted values of “love” and “reason.” In its purest state love is given freely with no restrictions and no thought of return. In its fallen state love is reduced to a form of trade: “Thy love depends on him thou lovest, & on his dear loves / Depend thy pleasures, which thou hast cut off by jealousy.” “Female love” is given only in exchange for love received. It is bartering in human emotions and is not love at all. When Milton denounces his own Selfhood, he gives up “Female love” and loves freely and openly.

As Blake attacks accepted notions of love, he also forces the reader to question the value society places on reason. The Seven Angels of the Presence warn that the “memory is a state Always, & the Reason is a State / Created to be Annihilated & a new Ratio Created.” Both Memory and Reason exercise the lesser powers of the mind. Nothing new can be created by the mental processes involved in memory and reason. In his struggle with Urizen, who represents man’s limited power of reason, Milton seeks to cast off the deadening effect of the reasoning power and free the mind for the power of the imagination. Milton gains control of Urizen, and it is clear that in Milton’s mind it is now the imagination that directs reason.

Destroying the Selfhood allows Milton to unite with others. He descends upon Blake’s path and continues the process of uniting with Blake that had begun in book one. This union is also a reflection of Blake’s encounter with Los that is described in book one and illustrated in book two. As was the case with seeing Los, Blake is startled by Milton’s arrival. Los appears as a “terrible flaming Sun,” and Milton’s arrival turns Blake’s path into a “solid fire, as bright as the Clear Sun.” Both events describe the process of union and the assumption of the powers of the imagination necessary to become a true poet. All of this comes about through the individual annihilation of the Selfhood. To become a poet and prophet, the man of imagination must first look within and destroy the Selfhood.

Milton’s final speech in praise of the virtue of self-annihilation is followed by Ololon’s own annihilation of the Selfhood. She rejects her virgin Selfhood and joins with Milton:


Then as a Moony Ark Ololon descended to Felpham’s Vale

In clouds of blood, in streams of gore, with dreadful thunderings

Into the fires of Intellect that rejoic’d in Felpham’s Vale

Around the Starry Eight; with one accord the Starry Eight became

One Man, Jesus the Savior, wonderful!

As Noah’s Ark saved lives upon earth, the “Moony Ark” of Ololon preserves man’s individual nature. The Seven Eyes of God that had instructed Milton are now merged with Milton, Blake, and all men on earth. Jesus is “One Man,” for he unites all men in a Universal Brotherhood. By destroying the Selfhood, we do not lose our identity but rather gain a new identity in the body of the universal brotherhood. Our entry into this union prepares us for the promise of vision.

The apex of Blake’s vision in Felpham is the brief image of the Throne of God. In Revelation, John’s vision of the Throne of God is a prelude to the apocalypse itself. Similarly Blake’s vision of the throne is also a prelude to the coming apocalypse. Blake’s vision is abruptly cut off as the Four Zoas sound the Four Trumpets, signaling the call to judgment of the peoples of the earth. The trumpets bring to a halt Blake’s vision, as he falls to the ground and returns to his mortal state. The apocalypse is still to come.

Blake’s falling to the ground is not a mystic swoon, but part of his design to take himself out of the poem and leave it to the reader to continue the vision of the coming apocalypse. The author falls before the vision of the Throne of God and the awful sound of the coming apocalypse. However, the vision of the author does not fall with him to the ground. In the very next line after Blake describes his faint, we see his vision soar: “Immediately the lark mounted with a loud trill from Felpham’s Vale.” We have seen the lark as the messenger of Los and the carrier of inspiration. Its sudden flight here demonstrates that the vision of the poem does not end but continues. It is up to the reader to follow the flight of the lark to the Gate of Los and continue the vision of Milton.

Milton does not come to a firm conclusion, for it can only be concluded by the reader. The reader, armed with the creative power of poetry and the power of his own imagination, is asked to continue the work of the poet and prophet.

Before Blake could leave Felpham and return to London, an incident occurred that was very disturbing to him and possibly even dangerous. Without Blake’s knowledge, his gardener had invited a soldier by the name of John Scofield into his garden to help with the work. Blake seeing the soldier and thinking he had no business being there promptly tossed him out. In a letter to Butts, Blake recalled the incident in detail:

I desired him, as politely as possible, to go out of the Garden; he made me an impertinent answer. I insisted on his leaving the Garden; he refused. I still persisted in desiring his departure; he then threaten’d to knock out my Eyes, with many abominable imprecations & with some contempt for my Person; it affronted my foolish Pride. I therefore took him by the Elbows & pushed him before me till I had got him out; there I intended to leave him, but he, turning about, put himself into a Posture of Defiance, threatening & swearing at me. I, perhaps foolishly & perhaps not, stepped out at the Gate, & putting aside his blows, took him again by the Elbows, &, keeping his back to me, pushed him forwards down the road about fifty yards–he all the while endeavouring to turn round & strike me, & raging & cursing, which drew out several neighbours….

What made this almost comic incident so serious was that the soldier swore before a magistrate that Blake had said “Damn the King” and had uttered seditious words. Blake denied the charge, but he was forced to post bail and appear in court. Hayley came to Blake’s aid by helping to post the bail money and arranging for counsel.

Blake left Felpham at the end of September 1803 and settled in a new residence on South Molton Street in London. His trial was set for the following January at Chichester. Hayley was almost forced to miss the trial because of a fall he suffered while riding his horse, but he was determined to help Blake and appeared in court to testify to the good character of the accused. The soldier’s testimony was shown to be false, and the jury acquitted Blake. A local newspaper, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser(16 January 1804), reported on the acquittal: “After a very long and patient hearing, he was by the Jury acquitted, which so gratified the auditory, that the court was, in defiance of all decency, thrown into an uproar by their noisy exultations.”

Blake’s radical political views made him sometimes fear persecution, and he wondered if Scofield had been a government agent sent to entrap him. In any event Blake forever damned the soldier by attacking him in the epic poem Jerusalem. One positive result of the trial was that Blake was reconciled with Hayley, whose support during the trial was greatly appreciated.

Jerusalem is in many ways Blake’s major achievement. It is an epic poem consisting of 100 illuminated plates. Blake dated the title page 1804, but he seems to have worked on the poem for a considerable length of time after that date.

In Jerusalem Blake develops his mythology to explore man’s fall and redemption. As the narrative begins, man is apart from God and split into separate identities. As the poem progresses man’s split identities are unified, and man is reunited with the divinity that is within him.

In chapter one Blake announces the purpose of his “great task”:


To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes

Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity

Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.

It is sometimes easy to get lost in the complex mythology of Blake’s poetry and forget that he is describing not outside events but a “Mental Fight” that takes place in the mind. Much of Jerusalem is devoted to the idea of awakening the human senses, so that the reader can perceive the spiritual world that is everywhere present.

At the beginning of the poem, Jesus addresses the fallen Albion: “‘I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend; / ‘Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me.'” In his fallen state Albion rejects this close union with God and dismisses Jesus as the “Phantom of the overheated brain!” Driven by jealousy Albion hides his emanation, Jerusalem. Separation from God leads to further separation into countless male and female forms creating endless division and dispute.

Blake describes the fallen state of man by describing the present day. Interwoven into the mythology are references to present-day London. There one finds: “Inspiration deny’d, Genius forbidden by laws of punishment.” Instead of inspiration man is driven by the “Reasoning Power” which Blake calls “An Abstract objecting power that Negates everything.” It is against this mental error that Los wars: “‘I must create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s. / ‘I will not Reason & Compare : my business is to Create.'” Like the poet Blake, Los emphasizes the importance of the human imagination. Systems of thought, philosophies or religions, when separated from men, destroy what is human. To put an end to the destructive separation, Los struggles to build “The Great City of Golgonooza.” Like a work of art, Golgonooza gives form to abstract ideas. It represents the human form and is composed of bodies of men and women.

In chapter two the “disease of Albion” leads to further separation and decay. As the human body is a limited form of its divine origin, the cities of England are limited representations of the Universal Brotherhood of Man. Fortunately for man, there is “a limit of contraction,” and the fall must come to an end.

Caught by the errors of sin and vengeance, Albion gives up hope and dies. The flawed religions of moral law cannot save him: “The Visions of Eternity, by reason of narrowed perceptions, / Are become weak Visions of Time & Space, fix’d into furrows of death.” Our limited senses make us think of our lives as bounded by time and space apart from eternity. In such a framework physical death marks the end of existence. But there is also a limit to death, and Albion’s body is preserved by the Savior.

Source : Poetry Foundation

 

BROKEN LOVE by William Blake

Broken Love

MY Spectre around me night and day
Like a wild beast guards my way;
My Emanation far within
Weeps incessantly for my sin.

‘A fathomless and boundless deep,
There we wander, there we weep;
On the hungry craving wind
My Spectre follows thee behind.

‘He scents thy footsteps in the snow
Wheresoever thou dost go,
Thro’ the wintry hail and rain.
When wilt thou return again?

’Dost thou not in pride and scorn
Fill with tempests all my morn,
And with jealousies and fears
Fill my pleasant nights with tears?

‘Seven of my sweet loves thy knife
Has bereavèd of their life.
Their marble tombs I built with tears,
And with cold and shuddering fears.

‘Seven more loves weep night and day
Round the tombs where my loves lay,
And seven more loves attend each night
Around my couch with torches bright.

‘And seven more loves in my bed
Crown with wine my mournful head,
Pitying and forgiving all
Thy transgressions great and small.

‘When wilt thou return and view
My loves, and them to life renew?
When wilt thou return and live?
When wilt thou pity as I forgive?’

‘O’er my sins thou sit and moan:
Hast thou no sins of thy own?
O’er my sins thou sit and weep,
And lull thy own sins fast asleep.

‘What transgressions I commit
Are for thy transgressions fit.
They thy harlots, thou their slave;
And my bed becomes their grave.

‘Never, never, I return:
Still for victory I burn.
Living, thee alone I’ll have;
And when dead I’ll be thy grave.

‘Thro’ the Heaven and Earth and Hell
Thou shalt never, quell:
I will fly and thou pursue:
Night and morn the flight renew.’

‘Poor, pale, pitiable form
That I follow in a storm;
Iron tears and groans of lead
Bind around my aching head.

‘Till I turn from Female love
And root up the Infernal Grove,
I shall never worthy be
To step into Eternity.

‘And, to end thy cruel mocks,
Annihilate thee on the rocks,
And another form create
To be subservient to my fate.

‘Let us agree to give up love,
And root up the Infernal Grove;
Then shall we return and see
The worlds of happy Eternity.

‘And throughout all Eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
As our dear Redeemer said:
“This the Wine, and this the Bread.”’

William Blake

Analysis of Major Characters – PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Elizabeth Bennet

The second daughter in the Bennet family, and the most intelligent and quick-witted, Elizabeth is the protagonist ofPride and Prejudice and one of the most well-known female characters in English literature. Her admirable qualities are numerous—she is lovely, clever, and, in a novel defined by dialogue, she converses as brilliantly as anyone. Her honesty, virtue, and lively wit enable her to rise above the nonsense and bad behavior that pervade her class-bound and often spiteful society. Nevertheless, her sharp tongue and tendency to make hasty judgments often lead her astray; Pride and Prejudice is essentially the story of how she (and her true love, Darcy) overcome all obstacles—including their own personal failings—to find romantic happiness. Elizabeth must not only cope with a hopeless mother, a distant father, two badly behaved younger siblings, and several snobbish, antagonizing females, she must also overcome her own mistaken impressions of Darcy, which initially lead her to reject his proposals of marriage. Her charms are sufficient to keep him interested, fortunately, while she navigates familial and social turmoil. As she gradually comes to recognize the nobility of Darcy’s character, she realizes the error of her initial prejudice against him.

Fitzwilliam Darcy

The son of a wealthy, well-established family and the master of the great estate of Pemberley, Darcy is Elizabeth’s male counterpart. The narrator relates Elizabeth’s point of view of events more often than Darcy’s, so Elizabeth often seems a more sympathetic figure. The reader eventually realizes, however, that Darcy is her ideal match. Intelligent and forthright, he too has a tendency to judge too hastily and harshly, and his high birth and wealth make him overly proud and overly conscious of his social status. Indeed, his haughtiness makes him initially bungle his courtship. When he proposes to her, for instance, he dwells more on how unsuitable a match she is than on her charms, beauty, or anything else complimentary. Her rejection of his advances builds a kind of humility in him. Darcy demonstrates his continued devotion to Elizabeth, in spite of his distaste for her low connections, when he rescues Lydia and the entire Bennet family from disgrace, and when he goes against the wishes of his haughty aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, by continuing to pursue Elizabeth. Darcy proves himself worthy of Elizabeth, and she ends up repenting her earlier, overly harsh judgment of him.

Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley

Elizabeth’s beautiful elder sister and Darcy’s wealthy best friend, Jane and Bingley engage in a courtship that occupies a central place in the novel. They first meet at the ball in Meryton and enjoy an immediate mutual attraction. They are spoken of as a potential couple throughout the book, long before anyone imagines that Darcy and Elizabeth might marry. Despite their centrality to the narrative, they are vague characters, sketched by Austen rather than carefully drawn. Indeed, they are so similar in nature and behavior that they can be described together: both are cheerful, friendly, and good-natured, always ready to think the best of others; they lack entirely the prickly egotism of Elizabeth and Darcy. Jane’s gentle spirit serves as a foil for her sister’s fiery, contentious nature, while Bingley’s eager friendliness contrasts with Darcy’s stiff pride. Their principal characteristics are goodwill and compatibility, and the contrast of their romance with that of Darcy and Elizabeth is remarkable. Jane and Bingley exhibit to the reader true love unhampered by either pride or prejudice, though in their simple goodness, they also demonstrate that such a love is mildly dull.

Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is the patriarch of the Bennet household—the husband of Mrs. Bennet and the father of Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, Kitty, and Mary. He is a man driven to exasperation by his ridiculous wife and difficult daughters. He reacts by withdrawing from his family and assuming a detached attitude punctuated by bursts of sarcastic humor. He is closest to Elizabeth because they are the two most intelligent Bennets. Initially, his dry wit and self-possession in the face of his wife’s hysteria make him a sympathetic figure, but, though he remains likable throughout, the reader gradually loses respect for him as it becomes clear that the price of his detachment is considerable. Detached from his family, he is a weak father and, at critical moments, fails his family. In particular, his foolish indulgence of Lydia’s immature behavior nearly leads to general disgrace when she elopes with Wickham. Further, upon her disappearance, he proves largely ineffective. It is left to Mr. Gardiner and Darcy to track Lydia down and rectify the situation. Ultimately, Mr. Bennet would rather withdraw from the world than cope with it.

Mrs. Bennet

Mrs. Bennet is a miraculously tiresome character. Noisy and foolish, she is a woman consumed by the desire to see her daughters married and seems to care for nothing else in the world. Ironically, her single-minded pursuit of this goal tends to backfire, as her lack of social graces alienates the very people (Darcy and Bingley) whom she tries desperately to attract. Austen uses her continually to highlight the necessity of marriage for young women. Mrs. Bennet also serves as a middle-class counterpoint to such upper-class snobs as Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley, demonstrating that foolishness can be found at every level of society. In the end, however, Mrs. Bennet proves such an unattractive figure, lacking redeeming characteristics of any kind, that some readers have accused Austen of unfairness in portraying her—as if Austen, like Mr. Bennet, took perverse pleasure in poking fun at a woman already scorned as a result of her ill breeding.