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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Inspirations: William Blake

When I pitched the idea of an 'illuminated novel' to Erica Wagner of Allen & Unwin in late 2008, I used the example of William Blake's 'illuminated books' as a historical precedent: editions of Blake's poetry, in which the words were incised calligraphically on engraving plates, where they were accompanied by Blake's own illustrations. In many cases, the printed copies were also painted by hand afterwards in watercolour. However, when Dan and I were working together to create Five Wounds, I found Blake's illustrations for Dante's The Divine Comedy and The Book of Job more useful, perhaps because these raise the issue of collaboration and interpretation more explicitly, but also because (to be honest) I find much of Blake's own poetry unreadable.

The following are from the illustrations for Dante's The Divine Comedy. The first is Dante running from the three beasts (the Leopard, Lion, and She-Wolf respectively from the bottom up); the second is the Wood of the Suicides:

William Blake, Dante Running from the Three Beasts

William Blake, The Wood of the Suicides

The following are from Blake's illustrations for The Book of Job. The first is Behemoth and Leviathan; the second is the original watercolour of the same on which the engraving is based; the third is Job's Despair; the fourth is The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind:

William Blake, Behemoth and Leviathan

William Blake, Behemoth and Leviathan Watercolour

William Blake, Job's Despair

William Blake, The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind

We did consider framing the Plates in Five Wounds in a similar manner to the way that these engravings for the Book of Job have been surrounded with text, but in the end we felt that it might have been too much in the context of the novel. It is, however, an idea I intend to return to.

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