Blake’s early works show relatively few signs of his later sympathy toward homosexual desire; rather, they display an aesthetic of assertive masculinity. But this quality is not consistent. In early works (for my purposes, those before The Four Zoas), Blake often idealizes aggressive maleness. So far as he asserts that apocalypse may come through an “improvement of sensual enjoyment” (MHH 14), the enjoyment is normally conceived as genital, heterosexual, and dependent on male gratification. These works largely devalue sexual modes other than male-dominant heterosexuality, including male and female homosexuality, and particularly masturbation, which functions as a kind of stand-in for non-“prolific” sexuality in general. Yet despite these emphases, Blake conceives, is aware of, writes about, and illustrates these other forms of sexuality. And underneath their predominant poetics of masculinity, gingerly but discernibly broadened representations of both masturbation and homosexuality provide a countercurrent running through these works.
KeywordsSexual Coercion Sexual Meaning Homosexual Desire Sexual Perversion Secret Shadow
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