________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006


William Blake: The Gates of Paradise.

Michael Bedard.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2006.
192 pp., cloth, $28.99.
ISBN 0-88776-763-X.

Subject Headings:
Blake, William, 1757-1827-Juvenile literature.
Poets, English-18th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Poets, English-19th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Artists-Great Britain-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Maha Kumaran.

*** /4

Reviewed from prepublication copy.


The plight of workhouse children in London was a longstanding scandal. Orphaned, abandoned, or given up by parents too poor to raise them, these children were at the mercy of often cruel nurses and unscrupulous parish officers who were paid a one-time lump sum for the children in their care, and who stood to profit from their speedy deaths.


Many of us knew William Blake as a poet. His Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are well-known. William Blake: The Gates of Paradise depicts his other strengths as well: he was a visionary, an engraver, and an artist. He was a man who instinctively preferred to take an independent path in whatever he did and in that he was a rebel. Scorn and mockery didn’t bother him. They did not change him. The industrial revolution that caused havoc in England during his time only strengthened his love for nature.

     This book focuses more on Blake’s work and professional relationships. Readers do get a sense of his childhood: born in a family of Dissenters, he loved his nature walks and had visions of angels on trees for which he almost received a thrashing from his father. “He had a sharp tongue and was quick to take offence.” Neither William nor any of his siblings were sent to school, a situation of which Blake later wrote:

Thank God, I never was sent to school
To be Flog’d into following the Style of a Fool

     From a very young age, Blake had a passion for drawing. He copied prints, and also, unlike others during his time, he favored the Renaissance masters. “Copy for Ever” was his rule. Through his profession,he made friends: Fuseli, Thomas Stothard, Linnell, William Hayley, among many. Some lasted his lifetime,and others didn’t. Some of his friends believed in his art and found him work which helped him and his beloved wife,Catherine, survive. 

     Blake’s close relationship with his favourite sibling, Robert, does not take up many pages, but readers learn that, with Robert’s death, “a door had opened for Blake between the inner world of spirit and vision and the outer world.” This vision inspired all his works. 

     Readers are left with some questions. For example, on page 162, why is the aging artist confined to bed with a scalded leg. Where was Linnell, who was close to Blake towards the end of his life, at the time of his death? Why does Frederick Tatham inherit Blake’s works when Catherine dies -  because she lived with him and his family?!

     Although there are some unanswered questions, this biography does give readers an insight into the times – the slaughter houses run by women, the dying orphaned children, the riots of eighteenth-century London and the poverty that surrounded the living. William Blake: The Gates of Paradise would be a good book to being about Blake’s life and times, but readers should also consult other materials for a deeper understanding of the issues.


Maha Kumaran is the Adult/Young Adult Librarian in Saskatoon, SK.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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