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with intellectual spears & long winged arrows of thought

Reply to Andrew Lincoln

Andrew Lincoln’s article does indeed question the innocence of Night the Ninth’s pastoral episode, and had I read his work before publishing, I certainly would have acknowledged its perceptive analysis of the interlude’s uneasiness. The following insight of his sounds especially like my own:

The style of the passage is disarmingly simple . . . and may seem to invite a relaxed reading, especially in the context of the exuberant Last Judgement described in the rest of the Night. The context leads us to expect an onward movement towards reintegration and regeneration, and this expectation may lead us to overlook or minimise the significance of features which disturb the sense of progress. (Lincoln, 471)
And yet while we agree that this earthly paradise blends shadow with light, our explanations for its troubling darkness remain quite different. Lincoln treats Vala as an Evian figure whose suffering and doubt arise partly from “the dangers of wilful self-absorption” (475) and whose interaction with Tharmas and Enion shows us “the seductive power of matter and its tendency to leave the sense unsatisfied” (476). In extracting the universal spiritual significance of what happens in Blake’s pastoral setting, Lincoln writes that “the interlude . . . illustrates the susceptibility of the soul to the pleasures of the material world, which may lead her to turn away from her maker” (477).

My reading differs from Lincoln’s by treating Vala not as a representative soul conceived in Miltonic terms, but as a specifically “feminine” being opposing what is “masculine” in the poem. Whereas Lincoln uses a traditional framework of religious thought to explain what he sees as the main theme of innocence lost, I use a feminist methodology to reconsider the disturbing struggle between male and female in the Four Zoas as a whole. One example of how our two approaches diverge: when “reluctant” Enion is induced to follow Tharmas (131: 552; E 399), Lincoln sees her submission as Blake’s affirmation of an ideal hierarchy—Eve’s yielding to Adam in Paradise Lost. I, on the other hand, see the passage as enacting a sinister kind of sexual drama, with Vala (herself enclosed and subjugated by Luvah) aiding Tharmas in his domination of a woman who remains unwilling. For Lincoln, Vala is the central figure in a Miltonic psychomachia; for me, she and Enion both appear as counterparts in a shifting power-play between the sexes.

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