Friday, November 30, 2012

Philoprogenetive Blake

Frontispiece to William Blake's
 Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793)
Dr David Fallon has published an essay entitled 'Philoprogenetive Blake' in Blake, Gender and Culture (Pickering & Chatto, 2012). David contextualises Blake’s apocalyptic representations of sexuality, especially female sexuality, within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century discussions of British population. Until the first British census in 1801 and Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), radicals, led by Richard Price, were ‘philoprogenitive’, promoting population growth as a sign of a lively body politic. They believed that Britain’s population was in decline, reflecting the failures of its despotic government to deliver the peace and plenty necessary to a burgeoning population. The essay traces Blake’s links to the Enlightenment population debate and its contributors, especially his hostility to Malthusianism, and notes the importance of philoprogenitive discourse to a number of his poems, including Visions of the Daughters of Albion, America, and The Four Zoas.  Blake’s repeated modifications of this discourse emphasise qualitative female sexual pleasure, which complicates both the traditionally quantitative language of philoprogenitivism but also recent feminist assessments of Blake as a misogynist.


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