cover image Blake


Peter Ackroyd. Alfred A. Knopf, $35 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40967-0

Published to rave reviews in England, Ackroyd's moving and luminous biography of William Blake (1757-1827) serves as an ideal point of entry into the poet and artist's visionary world. Withdrawn, secretive, detached from ordinary affairs, Blake, a London hosier's son, began having mystical visions around age eight and came to see his life as a revelation of eternity. While eking out a living as an engraver, he stripped away levels of conventional perception to create a universe of mythical figures, muses and angels, or prophets and bards who stand alone against the world. For Ackroyd, biographer of Dickens and T.S. Eliot, Blake's tragedy was that he had the capacity to become a great public and religious poet but instead turned in upon himself, gaining neither reputation nor influence in his lifetime. Combining meticulous scholarship with uncanny psychological insight, this marvelously illustrated biography (with color and b&w plates of Blake's paintings, drawings and engravings) presents him as a prescient social critic who, long before Freud, saw warfare as a form of repressed sexuality, and whose prophetic epic poems offer a cogent vision of humanity's spiritual renewal. BOMC selection. (Apr.)