Global Blake
Global Blake: Camille Adnot
Camille Adnot examines the lasting impact of the French Surrealists’ reading of Blake from the 1920s onwards.

Little known in France before the 1920s, Blake gained visibility during that decade thanks to the writings of André Gide and Philippe Soupault (cofounder of the Surrealist movement). His popularity experienced a steep rise after World War 2, in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to the interest of intellectual figures such as André Breton, Jacques Prévert and Georges Bataille. As Cécile Mansanti writes in the catalogue to the 2009 Blake exhibition in Paris, Blake became “a classic” in France over that time-period. Yet it remains to be addressed what particular kind of classic Blake was turned into; in the same catalogue, Peter France observes that “Mad Blake” became “a central figure in the French pantheon of anglophone poets.” Indeed, “Mad Blake” is an epithet used in the first paragraph of Soupault’s 1928 monograph; in Literature and Evil (1957), Bataille addresses the myth of “Blake le Voyant,” stating that Blake’s “wisdom was close to madness.” This paper aims at demonstrating how French Blake enthusiasts of that era propagated a version of Blake quite different from its English counterpart. The Surrealists’ Blake is in turn mad or maleficent, both a prophet and a freethinker. Soupault paired Blake with Edgar Allan Poe; Gide called him a “Radiant Lucifer” and compared him to Nietzsche and Lautréamont; Jean Wahl also likened him to Nietzsche, but more importantly to Rimbaud. The Surrealists de-anglicised Blake, claiming him as a forefather and assimilating him into the French pantheon. They favoured the Blake of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which they celebrated for its anticlerical statements and visionary power – aspects which they emphasised in their translations. I wish to highlight the biases behind their reception of Blake, and the way they still shape the French perception of Blake today.

Camille Adnot is a third-year PhD student at Université de Paris, where she teaches English. Her research focuses on the aesthetics of disorder in the illuminated poetry of William Blake. She is a member of BARS, IAWIS, and SERA. Her research interests include long 19th century poetry and art, text materiality, and the interplay of text and image.