AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

“his own Divided Image:” The Gnostic Female in William Blake’s The Book of Thel & Europe – A Prophecy

by Judith Dobson

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: Blake; gender; Gnosticism; Revolution; Thel; Enitharmon
Record ID: 1309246
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5001


This thesis examines William Blake’s engagement with Western esoteric tradition, specifically the beliefs and ideas of the Gnostics, as a form of political activism during the Revolution. In particular, it considers Blake’s incorporation of these ideas in relation to gender in The Book of Thel (1789) and Europe – A Prophecy (1794). My intent is to challenge the much debated view of Blake as unconsciously misogynistic by exploring the ways in which Gnostic concepts inform two of his most controversial female characters, Thel and Enitharmon, as a social critique of contemporary gender discourses. The thesis incorporates a range of scholarship and critical receptions of Blake to provide a contextual framework. It also traces the development of Gnostic concepts through various primary sources to illustrate Blake’s acquaintance with these ideas. The main body comprises two chapters dealing with Thel and Europe respectively. The former focuses on Blake’s use of Gnostic ideas in Thel as a rejoinder to the empiricism of John Locke. It examines the significance of Locke’s theories in underpinning contemporary attitudes to gender as expressed in the limited scope of female education in the eighteenth century. The latter explores the politico-theological context of the 1790s and its depiction in Europe. I will discuss how Gnostic ideas influenced Blake’s portrayal of Enitharmon in response to the impact of the Revolution on women’s rights. This thesis aims to show how Blake, by incorporating Gnostic ideas in his depictions of women, challenges orthodox discourses and modes of representation. It also addresses the wider implications of the esoteric for Blake and other Romantics in a counter argument to the predominant perception of the poet/visionary as the ‘lone wolf’ of Romanticism.