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Authorship, Ethics, and the Reader: Blake, Dickens, Joyce by D. Rainsford

By D. Rainsford

Dominic Rainsford examines ways that literary texts could seem to touch upon their authors' moral prestige. Its argument develops via readings of Blake, Dickens, and Joyce, 3 authors who locate in particular shiny methods of casting doubt on their lonesome ethical authority, even as they reveal wider social ills. The ebook combines its curiosity in ethics with post-structuralist scepticism, and therefore develops a kind of radical humanism with functions a ways past the 3 authors instantly mentioned.

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The 'serious' songs are mostly ambiguous in themselves: is 'Upon a holy thursday' really a celebration of the generosity of beadles, or should we, with Erdman, anticipate the 'Holy Thursday' of Songs of Experience,22 and, if the latter, is Obtuse Angle aware of the irony? Overall, Blake emerges from An Island in the Moon as an author who possesses strong moral insights, but who is unable or unwilling to organize these insights into propositions. 23 This is compounded by the disturbing presence of abstract philosophy.

Must the saved remain sheep-like, ignorant and weak? But then, Blake is not really talking about heaven at all. The lion-spirit of The Little Girl Lost' and The Little Girl Found', poems which were transferred to Experience after originally being published in Innocence, is like a god of the Underworld: Dis to the girl's Proserpina, or Comus to the girl's bloom of Ludlow Castle. For she is not led to paradise but to a 'palace deep' in 'a lonely dell' (E, 22), not to the positive sexual awakening or catharsis of experience which is often inferred,48 but to a comatose subsistence, away from life's pressures, to a state of protection that is imprisonment and exile.

In An Island in the Moon, Blake had shown the desire for genius in a satirical light: 'Honour & Genius is all I ask,' sings Quid, 'And I ask the Gods no more' (p. 4; E, 452). But then, as Blake was later to assert, 'More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul, less than All cannot satisfy Man' (NNR [b], V; E, 2). Blake seems intermittently aware that to set himself up as possessing genius is provocative but at times that seems to be the point. To claim genius is like claiming to believe in innate ideas: it gives an eccentric, subjective view of the world precedence over the institutional views of the Royal Academy, for example, or the scientific community as Blake perceives it, or the structures of political control.

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