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Vol. 45 no. 1: Summer 2011

Magnus Ankarsjö, William Blake and Religion: A New Critical View

  • Christopher Rowland
6 July 2011
11 Jul. 2011


This concise study of Blake’s religion starts from the recent work done on Blake’s Moravian background and the possible overlaps between Moravianism and Swedenborgianism. In the process, it seeks to elucidate what is meant by Blake’s radicalism, which, as the author points out, is a very slippery concept. The book starts with a rejection of E. P. Thompson’s theory that Blake’s mother was a Muggletonian and a consideration of the links with Unitarianism, Swedenborgianism, and Moravianism, but these last two loom largest, as they do throughout the rest of the book. The following chapter considers Blake’s religion, moving from a treatment of some of the poems in Blake’s Notebook via the apocalyptic passages in The Four Zoas to Milton and Jerusalem. There are interesting comments on the powerfully effective juxtaposition of sex and religion, which gives some of Blake’s lines such a radical feel. Ankarsjö explores Blake’s use of apocalyptic religion, especially the sense of climactic unity as male and female are united in the entry into Paradise. The chapter ends with a suggestion that the emphasis on the forgiveness of sins might be explained by Blake’s temptation to have an amorous affair with Nancy Flaxman, leading to his very personal interest in forgiveness.