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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 appear to touch upon their authors' moral prestige. Its argument develops via readings of Blake, Dickens, and Joyce, 3 authors who locate specially vibrant methods of casting doubt all alone ethical authority, even as they divulge wider social ills. The publication combines its curiosity in ethics with post-structuralist scepticism, and hence develops a kind of radical humanism with purposes a ways past the 3 authors instantly mentioned.

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Comus was influenced by A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Blake's imagery, here, is suggestive not only of the penetration of the unconscious which appears in the dreams and missed paths of that play, but also of the primeval terrors evoked by the murderous forest of Macbeth. Taken as a whole, the world of the Sketches is, in a phrase from Experience, a 'dangerous world' ('Infant Sorrow'; E, 28), where the lovers of To the Evening Star' shut out a night in which 'the wolf rages wide/ And the lion glares thro' the dun forest' (E, 410), and in which the wives and children of the poor, in 'Gwin, BCing of Norway', are seen 'Howling like ghosts, furious as wolves/ In the bleak wintry day' (E, 418).

Tom Dacre only apprehends freedom in a dream, and Blake would have known that in such circumstances faith was really too much to ask. Faith has little to support it in 'Night', where the angels are poor guardians, ultimately incapable of staving off the 'dreadful' assaults on their charges. ParadoxicaUy, 'Night' ends with the destroyer become protector, the lion watching 'o'er the fold'; and yet, with the lion turned benign there should be no need for a fold. A sense of captivity persists in the 'new worlds' which the victims are supposed to have inherited.

Pretty Pretty Robin Under leaves so green A happy Blossom Hears you sobbing sobbing Pretty Pretty Robin Near my Bosom. (E, 10) Here, the arrow-wound, vagina or grave of the 'blossom' is also a 'cradle', an image that connects significantly with many of the other Songs. In 'Night', once the 'happy groves' (analogous to the 'ecchoing green') have been left behind, we pass into a cradled state where the innocent are patients, receiving anaesthetic ministrations which advertise the imminence of pain and danger, and which seem, moreover, to curtail free wiU, describing a Providence that is claustrophobic: If they see any weeping, That should have been sleeping They pour sleep on their head And sit down by their bed.

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