In Conversation with Jodie Marley – Recording

Jodie Marley discusses George William Russell and his engagement with the mystic reception of William Blake.

‘Another William Blake!’: George William Russell ‘Æ’ and William Blake’s Mystic Reception

George William Russell (1867-1935), pen name ‘Æ’, is perhaps best known as a lifelong friend of the Irish poet and William Blake scholar W. B. Yeats. However, Russell was a successful artist, poet, and journalist in his own right, with a writing career spanning four decades. Much of his creative work evokes themes of mysticism, otherworldly vistas, and supernatural beings, all of these strongly tied to the rural Irish landscape and people.

In the 1890s, as he moved in Yeats’s artistic circles, Russell’s art, poetry, even his character, was frequently compared to Blake’s. Russell and Yeats came of age reading both Blake and Blake’s esoteric influences like Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg. Blake’s influence can certainly be seen in both Russell’s visual and literary output of the 1890s.

This video explores the context of Russell’s engagement with Blake: how Russell and his circle received Blake in the 1890s, and how the late Victorian spiritualist and occult revivals influenced Blake’s popularity. It then discusses Russell’s 1890s poetry, and his later mystic tract The Candle of Vision (1918), analysing how Blake’s influence as a ‘mystic’ artist contributes to Russell’s own unique artistic vision. Finally, Jodie argues that instead of considering Russell an eccentric footnote to his more famous friend Yeats, that Russell’s work must stand alongside Yeats’s when we consider Blake’s nineteenth and twentieth century influence. Although both received Blake as a visionary or mystic writer, Russell’s vision of Blake diverges significantly from Yeats’s in practice.

Jodie Marley

Jodie Marley is a PhD graduate from the University of Nottingham, funded by the Centre for Regional Literature and Culture. Her research examines William Blake’s reception as a mystic by W. B. Yeats, George Russell, and Fiona Macleod. She has published articles in VALA and The John Rylands Library Bulletin.