William Blake @ Tate Britain

This is the largest survey of work by William Blake to be held in the UK for a generation. It brings together over 300 famous and rarely seen works, from the whole of his career, from all of his publications and projects, and sets them alongside works by contemporaries, friends and influences, in a blockbuster exhibition which spreads over 13 rooms.

Engraving

Blake was born in 1757 into a poor family in London’s Soho – his father was a hosier – who, nonetheless, supported his ambitions to be an artist. Aged 15 he got an apprenticeship to an engraver. At the age of 21 he became a student at the Royal Academy. He appears to have been studious, the exhibition contains a typical plaster cast classical statue which students had to sketch along with Blake’s drawings of it.

Distinctive style

Muscles But from early on Blake developed an idiosyncratic and eccentric way of depicting the human body. Most of his work is depictions of the human body. Most of the bodies in question are naked or draped in simple Biblical robes, and all of them are extremely muscley, with a heavy, musclebound weight which is reminiscent of Michelangelo. Although the curators don’t mention it I’ve read somewhere that this striking musculature is in fact anatomically inaccurate, and designed purely for expressive purposes.

Capaneus the Blasphemer (1824-1827) by William Blake © National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Flat and close Other elements of his style include the lack of perspective. Figures almost always appear in a flat space. This gives them dramatic immediacy and directness, as in this striking image.

The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea by William Blake (1805)

Noses In both these images note the strikingly aquiline noses of his figures. Sounds trivial but its a trademark of his style.

Anti-commercial art Blake rejected much of the commercial art of his day, came to despise the Royal Academy, hated the way late 18th century art was dominated by society portraits or landscapes of rich people’s properties.

Visual purity He wanted to forge something much more visionary and pure. This search for a kind of revolutionary purity reminds me of the Republican phase of the art of the French painter Jacques-Louis David, which also features: legendary, classical or mythical subject matter; half naked men showing off their six-packs; in striking poses; flowing robes and togas.

Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

Drawings not paintings

But a comparison with David vividly brings out the difference: Blake was never an oil painter. None of his works evince the kind of lavish, luxurious depth and perspective and colour and light and shade of an oil painter like David.

Most of Blake’s images are engravings, of which he produced over a thousand, and a central quality of an engraving is its flatness.

There are also watercolours but, as the curators point out, these have the clarity of line, formality and flatness of engravings which have simply been coloured in.

There is rarely any perspective or depth. The backgrounds are generally sketchy. All the focus is on the (generally melodramatic postures) of the foreground figures.

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God by William Blake (1799-1809) © The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

Illustrations

Cain Fleeing exemplifies a major fact about Blake’s visual work, which is that the majority of was illustrations for classic works. Over his life he was commissioned to produce illustrations for:

  • Mary Wollstonecraft – Original Stories from Real Life (1791)
  • John Gay – Fables by John Gay with a Life of the Author, John Stockdale, Picadilly (1793)
  • Edward Young – Night-Thoughts (1797)
  • Thomas Gray – Poems (1798)
  • Robert Blair – The Grave (1805–1808)
  • John Milton – Paradise Lost (1808)
  • John Varley – Visionary Heads (1819–1820)
  • Robert John Thornton – Virgil (1821)
  • The Book of Job (1823–1826)
  • John Bunyan – The Pilgrim’s Progress (1824–1827, unfinished)
  • Dante – Divine Comedy (1825–1827)

The exhibition features generous selections from most of these works, for example ten or more of Blake’s illustrations for the Grave or Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, etc.

Bad pictures

What comes over from many of these obscure and little exhibited illustrations is how bad they are. Milky, washed out, strangely lacking in the dynamism which Blake, in his written works, claimed for his art.

Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard, Design 113 by William Blake (1797-8)

Bad, isn’t it? All the illustrations for the Elegy are like this.

Towards the end of his life Blake made 29 watercolour illustrations of the Pilgrim’s Progress which are similarly not much mentioned in his oeuvre. Being woke, the curators suggest this might be because his loyal, hard-working and artistic wife, Catherine, is said to have had a say in designing and colouring them, so their neglect is a sexist conspiracy. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just because they’re not very good. Here’s an example.

Illustration four for the Pilgrim’s Progress by William Blake

The composition, the use of perspective, the crappy buildings, the ludicrous posture of the figures, and the badness of their faces – everything conspires to make this picture, in my opinion, poor. And there are lots more of this low standard in the exhibition.

Good pictures

But what makes it impossible to dismiss and hard to evaluate is that Blake was also capable of coming up with images which turned his manifold weaknesses – the lack of depth, the odd stylised postures, the inaccurate anatomy – into strengths. This is true of many of the illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Take this depiction of the fate of the corrupt pope – the very unnaturalness of the postures and the weirdness of the setting work in its favour. To make it a deeply strange and troubling image.

The Simoniac Pope’ by William Blake (1824-7) Tate

Take another of his archetypal images, Newton. The closer you look, the weirder it becomes – not least his musculature which makes him look more like an insect with a segmented back than a human being – and yet, and yet… it’s so weird that it’s true – true not to lived life or anything anyone’s ever seen, but to something stranger, more mysterious and more visionary.

Newton by William Blake (1795-1805) Tate

The illustrated books

Of course Blake was also a poet, an epic poet, a writer of immense long epics featuring a mythology and mythological characters he made up out of a strange mishmash of the Bible, the classics and Milton. Not many people read these long poems nowadays although, as it happens, as a schoolboy I read all of them cover to cover in the Penguin Complete Blake edition, so I have a feel for the vastness and strangeness of his imaginary world.

Blake produced the poems in books which featured his own line illustrations and decorations of the handwritten texts.

  • Songs of Innocence and of Experience (edited 1794)
  • Songs of Innocence (edited 1789)
  • The Book of Thel (written 1788–1790, edited 1789–1793)
  • The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (written 1790–1793)
  • Visions of the Daughters of Albion (edited 1793)
  • Continental prophecies
  • America a Prophecy (edited 1793)
  • Europe a Prophecy (edited 1794–1821)
  • The Song of Los (edited 1795)
  • There is No Natural Religion (written 1788, possible edited 1794–1795)
  • The First Book of Urizen (edited 1794–1818)
  • All Religions are One (written 1788, possible edited 1795)
  • The Book of Los (edited 1795)
  • The Book of Ahania (edited 1795)
  • Milton (written 1804–1810)
  • Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion (written 1804–1820, edited 1820–1827 and 1832)

The exhibition features many of these illustrations to his own verse. There is, for example, half a room devoted to individual pages from America a Prophecy, which have been removed from the book and framed as prints. Some of them are displayed in doublesided cases set up on plinths so that visitors can walk around and see both sides. The most immediate thing you notice is how very small they are, old-fashioned paperback book size, which makes much of the writing very hard to read without a maginifying glass.

Title page of America a Prophecy, copy A (printed 1795) by William Blake © The Morgan Library

The shorter works

Even his contemporaries struggled with the obscure mythology, strangely named characters (Los, Urizen) and difficult-to-make-out plots of the longer poems. By contrast, two of the shorter works have always been popular, namely the pithy proverbs gathered in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

  • “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”
  • “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

and the short and simple poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which contain his best-known and most anthologised poems. Of these probably the most famous is 

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

It is undoubtedly a classic, but there is an odd and telling thing about it, which is that has become, over time, essentially, a children’s poem.

And this is emphasised by the illustration Blake did for it, which often comes as a shock to people who are familiar with it as an isolated text before they come to it in Blake’s illustrated version. It’s not just a children’s book illustration. It’s almost a baby‘s book illustration.

Tyger Tyger from Songs of Experience (designed after 1789, printed in 1794) by William Blake

Extremely hit and miss

And I think at some stage during the exhibition, it struck me that at some level, Blake is not a serious artist. He took himself very seriously, the small group of acolytes who gathered round him in his last years – the self-styled Ancients – took him very seriously, and critics and curators ditto, but… his long poems are all but incomprehensible and his own illustrations to his books are strange but often curiously childish and amateurish. His illustrations for Pilgrims Progress or the Elegy are deeply damaging to your sense of him as an artist. Some of the illustrations of Paradise Lost or Dante have a peculiar power, but many feel weak or half-finished. And strange random images throughout the exhibition leap out as expressing something no-one else had conceived or tried.

The Ancient of Days

Because every now and then, his peculiarities of style and technique (he pioneered new methods of acid engraving which the exhibition explains) come together to create something magical and genuinely visionary, something of depth and maturity.

‘Europe’ Plate i Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’ (1827) by William Blake (1757-1827) The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

The curators end the exhibition with this painting, which Blake was working on right up to his final days, at his house overlooking the Thames. Who is it, what is he doing, nobody is sure, although the hand gesture which seems to be creating a sort of compass is, unexpectedly, a negative gesture in Blake’s symbolism, because mathematics and science are the enemies of the liberated and revolutionary imagination which Blake defended and praised.

Still, as with so much of the rest of his ‘thought’ and personal opinions, it doesn’t matter. Again and again the curators have had to admit that nobody knows what this or that picture really means or whether it is illustrating this or that scene from one of his vast mythological books – so much about Blake’s output is scattered, broken up and mysterious, that one more mystery doesn’t make any difference.

At his best, Blake created images of startling power and resonance which, even if we don’t understand their intention or meaning, have stood the test of time. But the high risk this exhibition has taken is placing that dozen or so brilliant imagines amid a sea of ok, so-so, mediocre and downright poor images which do a lot to dilute their impact.

Two gaps

No explanation of Blake’s politics The curators mention in several places that Blake was a revolutionary thinker who engaged with the Great Issues of his day, and list those Great Issues as political revolution, sexual politics, and slavery, and he certainly did, in his long radical poems and his notes and essays.

The odd thing is you’d expect there to be, in such a big exhibition, some sections devoted to Blake the Revolutionary, explaining his revolutionary  views, his support of the American and French revolutions, his ideas of the power of the unfettered Imagination, sexual liberty and his violent anti-slavery sentiments.

But panels or sections devoted to Blake’s beliefs are strangely absent. His views are mentioned in passing, in the context of t his or that work, but you can’t make sense of a work like America A Prophecy without some explanation of the attitude English radicals took to the war their own government was fighting to put down men committed to freedom & Liberty.

No explanation of Blake’s mythology More importantly you can’t understand a lot of his images without delving into Blake’s own mythology, which was built around praising the power of the unfettered Imagination, in the arts and politics and private life, and which he elaborated out inventing a whole cast of pseudo-Biblical gods and goddesses.

This also was strangely absent – I mean all it would have taken was a panel explaining the symbolic roles of the characters he invented for the epic poems:

  • Urizen is the embodiment of conventional reason and law
  • his daughters Eleth, Uveth and Ona represent the three parts of the human body
  • his sons Thiriel, Utha, Grodna, Fuzon match the four elements but are also aligned with the signs of the Zodiac
  • Los is the fallen (earthly or human) form of Urthona, one of the four Zoas

and so on, to at least give you a flavour of how strange, eccentric, but oddly beguiling his personal mythology could be.

Maybe – I’m guessing – the curators wanted to focus narrowly on his art, and on the technical ways in which he experimented with techniques of engraving, and with the immediate facts of his biography. That would explain why there were rooms devoted to particular patrons such as John and Ann Flaxman, Thomas Stothard and George Cumberland, Thomas Butts and the Reverend Joseph Thomas.

I bought the audioguide. At the end of several sections on specific series of works, it said; ‘If you want to know more about the relationship between Blake and John Flaxman, press the green button’. My point being that all the additional information was biographical. Not one of them said: ‘If you want to hear more about Blake and the French Revolution, Blake and slavery, Blake and sexual Liberty, Blake’s theories of the imagination’ – all topics I’d love to have heard given a modern summary.

This biographical approach also explains why there is a big reproduction of a period map of London with markers indicating where Blake lived over the years. And even an entire room recreating the room in the family home in Broad Street where Blake staged a quirky one-man show in 1809, a show which was a disaster as hardly anyone showed up and the one critic who wrote about it dismissed Blake as ‘an unfortunate lunatic’.

I may be wrong but it seems to me that the curators have opted for a heavily biographical approach to Blake’s work, placing the works in the context of his real life career and biography, his houses and wife and friends and champions and critics. This is all interesting in its way, but not as interesting as Blake’s imaginative universe.

At the age of eight William Blake saw the prophet Ezekiel under a bush in Peckham Rye, then a rural backwater south of London. A few years later he had a vision of a tree full of angels nearby and, a month after that, a third vision of angels, walking towards him through the rye.

Blake really meant it. All through is life he claimed to have visions of angels and other divine beings, dancing and cavorting in London fields and streets. He was a visionary in the most literal sense of the word.

Although – with over 300 images – this exhibition is thoroughly documented and copiously illustrated, maybe the reason I left feeling so frustrated and dissatisfied was because I felt that Blake’s weird, peculiar and compelling imaginative universe had been almost completely left out of it.

There were plenty of framed pages taken from the illustrated versions of his ‘prophetic books’ covered with verse. But the verse itself wasn’t printed out on a label on the wall for us to actually read. There was an introduction to the subject matter of each one, but little explanation of what they meant or what he was trying to achieve.

This exhibition feels like a big, elaborately assembled, beautifully curated and presented catalogue of all Blake’s visual works. A list. A documentation of his works. But somehow, with all the fiery life, rebellion and pride of the Imagination taken out.

Blake’s life is presented as a story of professional frustration – rather than as a life of extraordinary imaginative triumph.


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Reviews of other Tate exhibitions

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)

John Bunyan came from very humble background. Born in a village near Bedford in 1628, he had some schooling before joining the Parliamentary (anti-king) army at the start of the Civil War (1642). This and his marriage spurred him to investigate his religion more closely and he began preaching to local groups of Christians outside the structure of the official Church of England.

After the restoration of Charles II (1660) the new, reactionary Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity, requiring all religious activity to be licensed and to follow the rites and rituals laid down in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer and all ministers to be appointed by an Anglican bishop. The aim was Control and Conformity after the anarchy of the Civil War years.

Bunyan refused to do this, not applying for a licence he knew he wouldn’t get and continuing to preach to non-Anglican groups around Bedford and beyond, which made him a non-conformist (for refusing to conform to the rules). He was arrested in November 1660, tried for his illegal preaching and ended up spending the next 12 years in prison (1660-72). The prison regime was quite lax, he had the company of various other devout Christians, books and writing materials and was even let out on some occasions for good behaviour.

While in prison he wrote Grace Abounding To The Chief of Sinners and began the Pilgrim’s Progress. During his imprisonment the political and social climate had changed significantly and in 1672 the king passed a Declaration of Indulgence which suspended penal laws against non-conformists. Thousands were released from prison, including Bunyan, who immediately applied for a licence to preach and took up his old activities.

Bunyan wrote prodigiously, mostly pamphlets, though he published some 40 longer works in his lifetime. By far the most famous is the Pilgrim’s Progress, published in 1678 which went on to become the most published book in English after the Bible. It takes the form of an allegory, in which the Pilgrim is tasked with saving his soul and during his journey encounters characters representing types of person or attitudes towards the Christian life.

Notes on allegory

Allegory compels a one-to-one relationship between a symbol and its meaning. Unlike the a) vagueness b) take-it-or-leave-it, of symbolism, allegory demands that you go beneath the surface story to derive the secondary meaning. In Bunyan the allegory is continually in plain view, easy and accessible.

The Pilgrim’s Progress has endured because of:

  • the accuracy & immediacy of its characterisation
  • the similar accuracy of its dialogue & argumentation – I was particularly taken with the arguments of Mr Worldly-Wiseman
  • the swiftness of its pace; most of the incidents are over in a few pages; many of the debates are over in a paragraph.

For the modern reader the most notable aspects of the text is the complete absence of colour & description of anything:

Now there was not far from the place they lay, a castle, called Doubting-Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair, and it was in his grounds that they were now sleeping.

No description of the castle or the giant. Compare what Edmund Spenser would have done in his wonderful poetic allegory the Faerie Queene (1590). But then Spenser was writing for a highly cultured, courtly culture and invested his poem with Elizabethan luxury. Bunyan is deliberately doing the opposite: reducing the drama of the Christian life to its bare (very bare) essentials.

  • The accuracy of the characterisation
  • The mercifully brief length of the spiritual debates, because a great deal of the subject matter seems to us to consist of the splitting of almost invisible theological hairs

The lack of description is the obverse of its strength: it gets straight to the point, the point being to demonstrate fully and clearly the scores of temptations, excuses, pretences, delusions and delays which can divert the would-be Christian from following their faith and saving their soul.

The plot

The narrator falls asleep in a den & dreams a dream. He sees:

Christian, inhabitant of the City of Destruction, weeping with fear, reading in the Bible that he is condemned to die and labouring under a heavy burden (of sin) on his back. Evangelist hands him a roll simply saying ‘Fly the wrath to come’. Go to that distant Wicket Gate to seek the Celestial City.

Dialogue with Obstinate and Pliable.

Christian falls into the Slough of Despond, Pliable abandons him, Help comes & shows him the true path.
Christian meets Mr Worldly-Wiseman from the town of Carnal-Policy, who advises him to seek out Mr Legality in the town of Morality (or his son, Civility) i.e. replace true religion with legality & civil appearance.

But before Legality’s house is an enormous mountain threatening to fall on him & crush him, so Christian stops & hesitates. At this moment Evangelist reappears & critiques Worldly-Wiseman & all his guiles.
Terrified at his error, Christian retraces his way to the true path and comes soon to the Wicket Gate. Good Will opens & pulls him through, asking him to recount his adventures & explaining them.

Once again on the right way, Christian comes to the House of the Interpreter who shows him various emblems & interprets them for him:

  • a picture of an apostle
  • a parlour full of dust i.e. a soul full of original sin which requires the water of grace to be sprinkled on it to settle it
  • two little children, Passion and Patience
  • the fire of grace continually burning being fuelled by Christ which the Devil endlessly tries to extinguish
  • a Knight of God who fights his way into the Palace of God against the armed men outside
  • Christian is shown a man trapped in the cage of his own despair
  • Christian sees a man waking trembling from a dream of the Last Judgement in which he is not saved

Bolstered with these insights Christian sets off & soon comes to a hill with a Cross on top and a sepulchre at the bottom. Effortlessly the burden of his sin is lifted from him. Three holy ones say thy sins are forgiven, dress him in new clothes, put a mark on his forehead and give him a roll of writing with a seal upon.

Further down the way he sees to one side three sleeping figures, Simple, Sloth and Presumption. He tries to wake them but they ignore him.

Then two men scramble over the wall of the narrow way, Formality & Hypocrisy who boast that they don’t need to come in by way of the Narrow Gate; Christian disdains them & comes to a hill called Difficulty. Christian struggles up it but the Formality & Hypocrisy take the easy-looking paths round the side (but one is Danger & one is Destruction).

Halfway up the hill of Difficulty is a pleasant arbour & there Christian rests & sleeps & the holy roll falls out of his pocket. He wakes & continues to the top where he meets Timorous and Mistrust running the other way. He rejects their advice to run away but realises he’s lost his roll; returns to the arbour; find it; turns around; finally comes to the house Beautiful.

Is invited in by the porter Watchful, then discourses with Piety, Prudence and Charity. Watchful et al delay him several days & tell Christian stories of Christian heroes, clothe him in armour, show him the weapons used by eg Gideon, Moses, Samson. They set him on his way down into the Valley of Humiliation, where he meets Apollyon: they debate whose subject Christian is, Apollyon’s or Christ’s, then fall to fighting & Christian wounds Apollyon who flies off.

A hand appears with leaves from the Tree of Life to heal & refresh him. Then Christian comes to the brink of the Valley of The Shadow of Death, where he meets two spies heading back with scary reports of what lies ahead.

The way through the Valley is dark, with a ditch on one side into which the blind fall, and a quag on the other. In the middle of the Valley is the mouth of Hell spewing forth flames & smoke, and Christian can hear crowds of fiends coming towards him; he resorts to fervent prayer.

Eventually day breaks & he can see the perils he’s passed & see ahead the 2nd half of the Valley full of traps. Finally he comes to the end & sees 2 caves inhabited by Pagan & Pope, fronted by lots of dead bones of their victims. But Pagan is long since dead & Pope is a feeble old man who says you should all burn but is harmless.

From a small rise he sees Faithful ahead & runs to catch him up. Faithful tells him about his journey from the City of Destruction, to wit: he was tempted by the lady Wanton; he was invited to work for the First Adam & his daughters The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes and The Pride of Life. Then he’s overcome by Moses who batters him relentlessly to the ground, until he is freed by ‘one with holes in his hands’. In the Valley of Humility he meets Discontent who tells him it’s a crappy Valley; then Shame who rails against all forms of religion as unworthy a man.

Back to the present where Faithful & Christian fall in with Talkative who, it eventually dawns on them, is all talk. Faithful gives a very edifying discourse on the difference between talk/knowledge – and action. By their fruits shall ye know them. Talkative departs.

Then Evangelist catches up with them & encourages them & warns them of the extremities they will suffer in the coming town.

Faithful & Christian arrive in the town of Vanity and go through its Fair, established 5,000 years ago by Beelzebub & Apollyon to ensnare pilgrims. They quickly cause a hubbub by their outlandish clothes & high-minded speech until there’s eventually a fight; and they’re brought before the court of Lord Hategood. Faithful goes first and is testified against by Envy, Superstition and Pickthank; then the jury, foreman Mr Blindman, condemn him for treason to the King of the country ie Beelzebub, breaking the laws of Pharoah, Darius etc, he is tortured & finally burnt at the stake. But his soul is scooped up in a chariot & taken to glory in Heaven.

God lets Christian escape. He falls in immediately with Hope. They are soon joined by Mr By-Ends from the town of Fair-Speech which is full of temporisers, compromisers & deceivers i.e. those who betrayed their principles to conform in 1662. Christian & Hope reject him.

But then, in a genuinely novel-like incident, By-Ends meets up with his friends from school in Love-gain in the county of Coveting, Mr Hold-the-world, Mr Money-love and Mr Save-all, and they have a conversation justifying their principles i.e that if a churchman is offered worldly gain he ought to take it. The characterisation – the entering into an alien mindset and set of arguments is powerfully novellish.
They catch up with Christian and Hope put their arguments to them, who vigorously reject them. To make religion a stalking horse for worldly gain is a sin.

Leaving them stunned C&H come to a silver mine in the hill of Lucre, and Demas hails them to come see. They easily spot it as a trap & continue. When By-ends passes he goes over to look & falls in & is never seen again.

Shortly after they come across Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt, giving rise to reflections.
Then they see a stile by the way with another smoother way through a meadow & Christian persuades Hopeful to take it. They meet Vainglory who confirms their choice & they go along & it gets dark & Vainglory falls into a pit. Then they fear & turn back but lose their way & lie down to sleep & Giant Despair captures them & takes them to Doubting Castle where they are scourged & beaten & encouraged to kill themselves – for some weeks – until Christian remembers he has a Promise (of salvation) in his pocket & uses it to free them.

Back on the right way they come to the Delectable Mountains and the shepherds who graze it; who show them a hill called Error with victims at its foot, a hill called Caution from which they see those blinded by despair stumbling in a graveyard; and a doorway into hell. Then the shepherds take them to a hill called Clear & show them the way to the Celestial City through a telescope.

They encounter Ignorance, a confident lad who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Hopeful tells the story of Little-faith, who was mugged by Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt, giving rise to a long debate about faith.

A black man dressed in white robes decoys them & ties them in nets. They are rescued by a Shining One. They meet Atheist who laughs in their faces. They laugh back.

They come to the Enchanted Ground and feel very sleepy. To keep awake they talk, specifically Faithful describes his spiritual awakening which is similar to Bunyan’s. Then they tarry to talk to Ignorance i.e. to prove his faith ignorant because based on wishes to be saved not on the converse conviction of one’s own wretched hopeless sinfulness which is the foundation of Puritan faith. They speculate why some men feel a conviction of sin but quash it to live more carnally at ease with the world.

The next day they come to the Land of Beulah, which is an earthly paradise within sight of the Celestial City where they relax, eat & talk to the gardener.

Two angels escort them over the River of Death where Christian has his final fears & anxieties before making it across, being carried up & into the Celestial City.

The very last scene is of poor Ignorance struggling up behind them and, having no certificate, being despatched down a back passage to hell.

Conclusion

As the atheist I am I find it absolutely typical that a Christian can’t envisage the joys of heaven without gloating over someone else being consigned to the pains of hell. I guess this last note is to prevent complacency in its readers, as throughout the book – as throughout the Old Testament – it is emphasised that fear of God is the only true beginning of wisdom.

But you can disagree completely with the theology and still find this is a powerful, challenging, memorable book.

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