From Vampire to Apollo: William Blake's Ghosts of the Flea (c. 1819-20)

Erle, S. (2018) From Vampire to Apollo: William Blake's Ghosts of the Flea (c. 1819-20). In: Beastly Blake. Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 225-252. ISBN 9783319897875

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Varley’s Zodiacal Physiognomy and Blake’s Visionary Heads are the two mainstays of a project which involved séance-like meetings at Varley’s house. While the lights were still on, Varley’s guests would have listened to the stories about the flea. With The Ghost of a Flea in front of them, the recitals of the flea’s pompous speeches, combined with the fact that it was just a ghost who leered after human blood, Varley’s guests may have laughed very heartily, if not in front of him then behind his back. Each evening followed the same protocol. When the lights were off, Varley would call out a name and Blake would look around, suddenly exclaiming ‘There he is!’ and start drawing. The flea is the most striking of the Visionary Heads, though it is not the only head which exists in different versions. If appearance is elemental to any kind of judgement of one human being of another, then Blake deliberately confused Varley. By working up the sketch, he played on Varley’s expectations; he presented him with an extraordinary and very puzzling painting, The Ghost of a Flea. But why, if Blake could have chosen any monster, did he settle on the ghost of a flea?

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: © 2018 Palgrave Macmillan. This is an author accepted manuscript of a chapter subsequently published the book Beastly Blake (9783319897875). Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Divisions: School of Humanities
Depositing User: Dr Sibylle Erle
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2018 13:48
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2020 06:30

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