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Blake, Young, and the Poetics of the Composite Page

Miraeus lecture, 30 October 2013
Luisa Calè (Birkbeck, University of London)

In Blake’s Composite Art, W.J.T.Mitchell analyses William Blake’s illuminated books as ‘not as an indissoluble unity, but an interaction between two vigorously independent modes of expression’. Yet the illuminated books were an experiments in ‘a method of Printing both Letter-press and Engraving in a style more ornamental, uniform, and grand, than any before discovered [...] a method of Printing which combines the Painter and the Poet’. This lecture rematerializes the notion of the ‘composite page’ by turning to an alternative book-making practice: Blake’s three experiments with Edward Young’s Night Thoughts. His first intervention involved an act of extra-illustration: the letterpress from first and second editions of Night Thoughts was inlaid in holes cut through wider pages, and the expanded margin illustrated with 537 designs. Secondly, a selection of 43 was engraved for an illustrated edition of Night Thoughts (1797). Finally, the proof pages of this edition, were reused as a surface of inscription for Blake’s prophetic poem Vala or the Death and Judgement of the Ancient Man A Dream of Nine Nights (1797-).


Luisa Calè is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. She works on Romantic period literature, visual and material culture, on the forms generated by the encounter between the book and the Romantic museum, and on disorder and critical disciplinarity. She is the author of Henry Fuseli’s Milton Gallery: ‘Turning Readers into Spectators’ (Oxford, 2006) and the co-editor of Dante on View: The Reception of Dante in the Visual and Performing Arts (Ashgate 2007), Illustrations, Optics and Objects in 19C Literary and Visual Culture (Palgrave 2010), and a special issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies on ‘The Disorder of Things’ (Fall 2011). Her current book project, entitled ‘The Book Unbound’, explores extra-illustration and other practices of reading, collecting, and dismantling the book, with chapters on Walpole, Blake, and Dickens.


Free entrance

Venue: Nottebohm Hall of the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Hendrik Conscienceplein 4
B-2000 Antwerpen


The Miræus Lectures are an initiative of the Flanders Book Historical Society and are supported by the Antwerp Bibliophile Society and the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience.