Blake Spotting


In the ladies’ loos at Kirkstall Abbey. No explanation why (notes on a postcard please if you have any idea). This is part of a poem from the Notebook, which is available to read via the Blake Archive.


A more self-evident reference at the Leeds City Museum.

The Leeds Art Gallery also had lots of things by Blake-inspired artists in their displays – the Pre-Raphaelites, Stanley Spencer and Anthony Gormley, among others.


A Transpennine Excursion

A post I wrote on the train yesterday as a big sun was beginning to set across the Pennines, and the last vestiges of snow drifts were melting on the hillsides.


I am en route back to Manchester after spending three days in Leeds. The main purpose of my visit was to take part in a conference at the School of English and the Leeds Library on creativity in dissenting and evangelical communities in the period 1750-1830 which is part of an AHRC network “Creative Communities 1750-1830.


I travelled over the day before the conference to visit the University’s Special Collections to consult the letters of the Blake scholar Ruthven Todd. I’d been tipped off about this material unexpectedly, and it was a bit of a shot in the dark as to whether I would find much of use. Todd was a Scot, born in 1914, but spent much of his life abroad, first in America, then in Mallorca, where he died in 1978. He was quite an eccentric which is reflected in the tone of many of his letters. I was hoping I might find some useful insights into some of the images I am looking at through his correspondence with various cultural institutions which hold Blake’s images, and I did find a few useful snippets. I had to be careful not to get too distracted by amusing banalities and bickering. In years to come there is probably a fascinating research project on the exchange of ideas and research in these letters.


The conference itself was an unusual format – the first day was mostly seminars, based on readings we had been given in advance. I had a crash course in Barbauld, who featured prominently throughout the two days. The second day was a more traditional format of papers and responses, held in the marvellous setting of the Leeds Library, which is the oldest subscription library in the country and where I would probably take up residence as a workspace were I based in Leeds. I gave a paper which explored how a notion of community might be at work in some of Blake’s images, which gave me occasion to think about some of my material from an angle I might not have otherwise, which in itself was a useful exercise. And, as ever, there were lots of interesting people involved and I came away with plenty of food for thought from the various sessions and speakers.


Next weekend I am off to Cambridge for another conference in the Faculty of English which will be a good opportunity to give some other work an airing, as well as being a chance to catch up with old friends from my own time there. So I have to get the material into a presentable format, plus I expect to have some emails to catch up on.


My train’s slowing down in to Manchester now so it’s time to sign off.

Just a quick update

Today is the start of the Easter break, but my next few weeks are set to be busy rather than relaxing.

Besides trying to keep on track with my research plan for the chapter I’m working on at the moment (which is on Blake’s depictions of Christ’s public ministry), I am preparing for two conferences at which I am speaking in April (details on my academia page). This also means I’ll be travelling around a bit, which is exciting — home to Canterbury for Easter (Mum says we should go and check out “the new boy”), then to Leeds and Cambridge for the conferences.

This week I’ve been tied in knots by Mary Magdalene — even putting aside debates about the appropriate spelling (regrettably, Blake himself spells it without the second “e”) and pronunciation of her name (I favour “mag-da-len” and “maudlin” only for the College), there is the confusion between various women in the Gospels who have been conflated into the personality of Mary M and assumed to be “adulterous.” As an alumna of Magdalene, it’s a minor bugbear of mine that various figures are conflated and confused with Mary M; Blake seems to do this to an extent but there are a couple of inconsistencies to cause me problems.

In other news, I have added a new section to my site, “Ephemera”, which will be a place for me to deposit various eclectic items. The inaugural item is Wasteland, which is a reflection on Margate, Turner and T S Eliot, which came out of my time working with a film installation of the same title by Mark Wallinger at Turner Contemporary.