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Jennifer G. Jesse, William Blake’s Religious Vision: There’s a Methodism in His Madness


Jennifer Davis Michael

As Blake’s religious views have come under fresh scrutiny and reassessment during the past decade or so (Ankarsjö, Davies and Schuchard, Rix, Ryan, Schuchard), it is refreshing to see some theologians wade into the waters previously ruled by literary scholars. Jennifer G. Jesse’s book challenges the predominant association of Blake with antinomian radical dissent (Mee), viewing him instead as a religious moderate in the tradition of John Wesley. Not only does she claim that Blake “endorses Methodist doctrines and values” (7), she also wishes to correct a common misconception that Methodism at the time was based on irrational “enthusiasm.” She advances her argument by positing that Blake wrote differently for different audiences, so that an antirational discourse might be aimed at deists, while antinomians might be challenged to accept a more moderate view of reason. Jesse identifies images and phrases (comparable to the “family values” of recent currency in the US) as “hot buttons” for particular sects. Her book thus highlights the need to contextualize Blake’s work more fully with regard to the Christian religious discourse of the day.


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