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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

RESEMBLANCE AND INFLUENCE Michael Phillips (ed.), Interpreting Blake (Cambridge) £14.50

Interpreting Blake is a notoriously difficult enterprise. These essays demonstrate how greatly our task is facilitated by familiarity with the traditions upon which Blake drew, and the conditions in which his work was produced. Although this approach is by no means original, and the articles (there are seven in all, most of which were originally presented at a Blake symposium in Edinburgh) are of uneven quality, the final product is impressive and undoubtedly constitutes a major contribution to Blake studies. The approach itself is fraught with dangers, not least of which is the difficulty of distinguishing between resemblance and influence. This is a fine distinction, more comfortable to ignore than respect. And this temptation most early Blake critics succumbed to, citing resemblances between Blake and given texts as evidence of his dependence on them. At this point the strengths of Interpreting Blake become apparent. It is the skill with which the critics employ the contextualist method that distinguishes their performance. For, without exception, they proceed meticulously, probing rather than forging links, strictly confining themselves to the evidence. Where they cannot substantiate relationships they leave them tentative, open-ended. In this way they lay the foundations for a thorough historical analysis of Blake's sources. This is clearly envisaged as a longterm and corporate undertaking. One would hardly expect this exploratory work to be comprehensive or final. The compass of each paper is limited, often to a single text, in the interests of precision, particularity and thoroughness. This might make for monotony ...


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