The French Revolution as it can be Read in Visions of the Daughters of Albion

The French Revolution as it can be Read in Visions of the Daughters of Albion

William Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion is saturated with symbolism and ideological proclamations, one of them being in parallel with the French Revolution (also the American Revolution). His three characters each stand for a separate part of the revolutionary process, and each have their faults, and each have a chance to produce some value of their being. Oothoon is the idea of revolution, the soul of France; Theotormon is America, the idea of something greater and all the flaws unwilling to lend themselves to the desiring observer; Bromion is the revolution, the new order destroying a wounded way in order to build something almost as plighted. Through these characters, Blake casts his judgment on revolutions and the societies that enact them as a whole.

Blake introduces Oothoon as wandering in woe “for the soft soul of America” (plate 1. line 4), and he continually brings the concept of the soul into his verse. Michael Ferber in his Social Visions of William Blake claims that a way of reading The marriage of Heaven and Heart is to assume it invokes the notion that the Body is a temporary vehicle in which humans perceive the Soul through five senses; and if this is the case, the soul is limitless to Blake, and the soul is something pure that our human forms cannot understand. This translation can be kept in mind with Visions of the Daughters of Albion and applied to assume that the soul of Oothoon is something beautiful and pure. Her desire for America, for Theotormon, is pure. So, paralleled in this, the idea of shaking off the tyranny of the old system is an admirable desire for the French, but as we learn through the three characters presented, this Soul is not enough.

The French take their desire for what has occurred in America and they go on their way to making changes; they, like Oothoon pick the flower and turn to where their “whole soul seeks” (plate 1. line 14). But this pure desire is estranged and tainted by the revolutionaries who take charge and turn the whole French Revolution into a blood-thirsty animal. Oothoon, the soul of the French, is extinguished by the ravaging lust of Bromion, the revolutionaries. Bromion is the revolutionaries who desire to be what America has become, especially when he says to Oothoon that “Thy soft American plains are mine, and mine thy north and south” (plate 1. line 21). Because of Oothoon’s scars, because the spirit of France is tainted, Theotormon will not take her. Because of the bloody, radical revolutionaries who would turn one evil into another, America and her liberties will not be tasted.

It is here, at the yielding of Theotormon, that Oothoon sees the truth of what he is (although this does not stop her from desiring him): beneath him sound like waves on a desart shore/ The voice of slaves beneath the sun, and children bought with money” (plate 2. Lines 8-9). This is America’s slavery and flaws ringing through his character, just as Bromion stated of America that it was filled with “the swarthy children of the sun” (plate 1. Line 22). Blake is stating here that what the French soul desires is not entirely good itself and that the revolution won a decade before the French Revolution is not without its many faults and evils; the revolutionaries that are going after that American position are chasing something impure, and they know its impurities but chase it still.

There is another moment where Blake allows a bit of a philosophical answer to these problems. Oothoon questions many ironies: “Does the still spider view the cliffs where eagles hide their young?/ Or does the fly rejoice, because the harvest is brought in” (plate 5. lines 36-7)? The answer seems to be no, but then she states, “Take thy bliss O Man!/ And sweet shall be thy taste, and sweet thy infant joys renew” (plate 6. lines 2-3)! Blake seems to be stating with this trope that happiness is available if these observations are made, if these joys are allowed. He is stating that these sides, these people, need to learn and see one another in order for there to be joy. This bloody revolution he sees is a lack of understanding, and there is something greater to be had (there is Oothoon to be had by all).

Oothoon, at the end of all the monologues and rants, states that she will “catch for thee girls of mild silver, or of furious gold:/ I’ll lie beside thee on a band and view their wanton play/ In lovely copulation bliss on bliss with Theotormon” (plate 7. Lines 24-6). This is the soul of France proclaiming that it will bring about these other falsities to play with America; that the soul of France is still longing for that pure desire of what America truly is, and it will wait because it knows that it is what it wants. The end leaves Oothoon shouting her selfless love, bound to Bromion, and with Theotormon sitting “upon the margind ocean conversing with shadows dire” (plate 8. line 12). There is little hope here at the end, but there is this knowledge presented by Blake, this knowing that there is something greater out there, even if these three characters, these three sides of an empty revolution, do not bring about what is wanted or deserved in his time. Oothoon will wait, tide to something unbecoming of her while Theotormon sits just out of her reach.

Works Cited

Blake, William. The Longman Anthology of British Literature (Fifth Edition) The Romantics and their Contemporaries, Volume 2A. Pgs.217-24. Edited by Damrosch, David; Dettmar, Kevin J.H; Wolfson, Susan; Manning, Peter. Pearson Education, Inc. 2012

Ferber, Michael. The Social Vision of William Blake. Pg.89. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1985

Cover Photo:

Blake, William. Visions of Daughters of Albion Plate 3, Copy G, 1789 Courtesy of Wikimedia Original in Houghton Library.