Beastly Blake pp 225-252 | Cite as

From Vampire to Apollo: William Blake’s Ghosts of the Flea, c.1819–1820

  • Sibylle ErleEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


Erle offers an interpretation of the versions of Blake’s flea: the head and full-length pencil drawing as well as the tempera The Ghost of a Flea and the plate in John Varley’s A Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy. Moving beyond the familiar narratives about Blake’s collaboration with Varley and the nightly séances at his house, the chapter revisits the debate about Blake’s renewed interest in physiognomy by aligning the images with Lavater’s Lines of Animality. As well as exploring the reception of Lavater’s physiognomy in early nineteenth-century Britain and physiognomical ideas relating to perceived animal likenesses in human faces, Erle analyses the changing morphology of the flea against the backdrop of vampire literature as a fluid or expressive body challenging contemporary taxonomies of character. The intricate interplay between the images and the speeches attributed to Blake’s flea, as Erle shows, firmly places Blake’s flea at the centre of the early history of the now iconic figure of the vampire.



I wish to thank Laurie Garrison, Jon Mee and Martin Myrone who looked at earlier versions of this chapter. Their comments and suggestions helped shaped my responses to its materials.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bishop Grosseteste UniversityLincolnUK

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