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Romantic Weltliteratur of the Western World

Edited By Agnieszka Gutthy

Romantic Weltliteratur of the Western World is a collection of essays that examine Romantic literature and art from Europe and America. Since Goethe coined the concept of Weltliteratur, scholarly interest in comparative, global, and transnational literary and cultural studies has only continued to grow. Intended to complement existing scholarship, the essays in this volume offer a variety of critical approaches to Romantic literature and explore the dialogic component of different literary works as well as their transnational intertextualities.

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3. Seeker Spirituality and the American Blake (Jade Hagan)

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3. Seeker Spirituality and the American Blake

Jade Hagan

A core part of William Blake’s mythology is the view that he remained a relatively obscure and misunderstood figure in his own lifetime and for nearly a century after his death. Even the most sympathetic Blake scholars have tended to agree. In his study of the relationship between religious and political radicalism, Jon Mee concludes that Blake’s working-class status and “vulgar enthusiasm” led to his exclusion from even the most radical circles of his day, which still hoped to appeal to an essentially rational bourgeois audience (Dangerous 220).1 The fact that critics have largely resigned themselves to this view of Blake as lacking an audience—a view that helps to explain Paul Mann’s claim that the question of audience is “the most egregiously under-asked question in Blake studies” (5).

I would argue, however, that too much emphasis has been placed on Blake’s failed reception in his lifetime at the expense of curiosity about his reception in other times and places. In fact, Blake’s time may have come sooner than is generally believed, just in a country other than his own. For, the narrative of Blake’s reception certainly changes when we consider his nineteenth-century American audience. Decades before Alexander Gilchrist’s 1863 biography of Blake introduced him to the Victorian public, several American nineteenth-century radicals had already begun to rescue Blake from obscurity.

The mid-nineteenth-century reception of Blake that I examine in...

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