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“The Daughters Weave their Work in loud cries”: Blake, Slavery, and Cotton


James F. Moyer

Commentators have noted Blake’s focus on spinning and weaving as images of labor in a new industrial situation, yet the persistence with which he compares female and child workers with African slaves—his critique of systemic slavery in cotton—also deserves careful treatment. For instance, Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) is the first of Blake’s attempts at an analysis, one sensitive to female vulnerability to labor exploitation. This considerably predates the works (for example, The Four Zoas, Jerusalem) in which critics see his deepest commentaries on industrialization, if not on a system with colonial slavery. Reading Visions in the context of the cotton industry helps reveal Blake’s critique of multi-site slavery and of conventional abolitionism, as does reading afresh the later works.


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