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The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art) Paperback – April 10, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Blake died in 1827, just short of 70, young George Richmond, a future Royal Academician, closed the artist's eyes "to keep the vision in." A writer, engraver, printmaker and painter, Blake, who could be seen as the ecstatic, English Michelangelo his depictions of the human body pulsed with physical energy was largely neglected in his lifetime. While he celebrated religion in his work, his idiosyncratic approach was considered subversive, and he sold little of his work. Still, he lived serenely, if in poverty, with his devoted wife, Catherine, except for the turbulent year of his unwarranted trial (and acquittal) for seditious language Blake's only public episode. Privately, his life was a continuing drama. He was consumed by communicating with spirits, whose portraits he often drew; others sometimes sat with him, unseeing, in his shabby rooms. Bentley, University of Toronto's emeritus professor of English, a Blake scholar for 50 years and the author of several books about Blake, affectionately and authoritatively renders the life of the artist, who's now considered less madman than visionary. Many know Blake's great anthem, "Jerusalem," the poem "The Tyger" and the striking etching "The Ancient of Days." Via Blake's writings and drawings, records of his intimates and thorough treatments of artworks such as the Visionary Heads, Bentley evokes something of the whole man an eccentric genius who saw the world as a product of personal imagination. Few in his time agreed with the understanding minister who explained that if Blake was cracked, "his is a crack that lets in the Light." With 120 b&w and 50 magnificent color illustrations and more evident research than Peter Ackroyd's biography of 1995, the book is a great bargain. (July)Forecast: The sweeping Blake exhibition that recently appeared at New York's Metropolitan Museum has helped renew interest in Blake; expect a large readership.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Though William Blake never traveled more than 60 miles from London, his was an intellectually complex life. Bentley (English, Univ. of Toronto) offers a comprehensive mapping of the life of both Blake and his wife, Catherine Boucher. Blake was born in 1757 and grew up in the language of radical religious dissent. His fundamentals of faith and growing genius impelled him to a life outside of popular political and social conventions. Enthusiastically exulting in the power of the spirit, Blake eventually created a new gospel of art that was otherworldly and essentially spiritual. Bentley traces Blake from his natal landscape, youth, marriage, and apprenticeship through to his later years as a working engraver, poet, and radical visionary. Bentley is academic and thorough, and this is more of a straight biography than an analysis. Readers will still want to read Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry (1947). With lovely illustrations and two comprehensive appendixes; for libraries committed to a full reference. Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 632 pages
  • Publisher: Paul Mellon Centre BA (April 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300100302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300100303
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,238,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Bubbles kingpin on June 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The scholarship that works through this book is obviously one of love and devotion of many many years. Bentley's sorting out of events in Blake's life is amazingly well researched - it is the first Blake biography that does not have that usual blur of focus that leaves one more mystified than enlightened. Blake's contemporaries, friends, enemies, patrons, etc. are all given voice through their own extant letters, articles . . - this contextualizes him beautifully and clears the field of critical debris that has grown out over the centuries. In fact, it is Bentley's sober critical eye (of fairness) which is so refreshing - his sense of balance is impeccable. Only a lifetime lover of Blake could hit so consistently true tones. But if you're arriving to this book looking for critical scholarship of the work and myth than you're walking through the wrong door. This book is not about the minutae of the work (see Northrop Frye for that) - it assumes already that one is also a lover and "understander" of the work. This book is about the man - written and informed, of course, by the man's work, but is a book about Blake's life - not a treatise on Urthona. Yes, I recommend this book. Walk on in and stroll around.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By William Hazlitt on May 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
A terrific book. This is the best biography of Blake that I know of, and is also one of the most encouraging books I have read in years. Bentley sews together contemporary reports, journals from Blake's friends, and Blake's poems and drawings themselves to form a mysterious--although moving--picture of the man. Blake, upon moving back to the Thames, one day opened his window and reported that he saw the filthy river moving along 'like a gold bar.' From his early years, he claimed to have visions of fairies and angels, and later in life even was able to see William Wallace and Satan (the sketches are included in the book). I know of nothing like Blake, and would give this outstanding biography of him six stars.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By T. McLaughlin on August 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a very good, straight-forward biography of a mysterious man. Anyone curious about Blake should read it. People who love Blake will still love him, their love enhanced by the very clear context given to the events of his life. Of the visions that are of course the oddest thing about Blake, at least to the vast majority of us who don't have them, the author is neutral. You can't really know. I'm personally for rather than against visionaries even if they are delusional, just because this is indeed the age of fiberglass. Someone said of Blake that he was cracked, but the Light came through the crack. I like to believe he was visited by Milton, Michaelangelo and William Wallace, etc., and that he saw trees full of angels. At the same time, there is a question about the nature of inspiration. Once established, Blake's style in poetry and painting never changed much, only the subjects changed: so the various spirits did nothing in the way of altering his method, nor did they alter his views much, though he seems to have mellowed somewhat. He seems to have been a channel for one Spirit who changed form. There are other artists who seem to me to have represented the world beyond in a more profound way: Bach, Milton, Michaelangelo, Wordsworth for example. And of course, Shakespeare seems to have had a 100 people's combined understanding of how life is. And there are artists, more like us, who seemed to have developed as life progressed.

Still, he was one of the men who lived for and frequently in the electric blessing that changes everything, that power, gift, the angels, like Cupid, seem to bestow as they choose. Blake was a vehicle.

He was the great Outsider artist. He was a Hero of poor England. Thank God for Blake who said, "I live in a hole here, but God has a beautiful mansion for me elsewhere." He was authentic, poor and a real man. Everyone should know how he died singing Hallelujahs and hymns of praise.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By meadowreader on August 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Apparently the result of a lifetime of investigation into the life and times of William Blake, this is the definitive biography. Blake's origins were modest, but his genius was not. He was also a religious dissenter of great originality and incredible intensity. The sheer volume of his poetic and graphic output is simply stupendous. He was constantly short of money, and he lacked much in the way of recognition during his lifetime, aside from a few loyal patrons. His is in some ways a rather sad story, but Blake seems never to have been sad himself; he died praising God and singing hymns. It is a safe bet that Bentley's biography will never be superseded.
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