Kang Po-Chen considers Blake’s use of representations of prostitution in new article

In this article in the Taiwanese journal Concentric, Kang-Po Chen considers how Blake engaged with changing ideas of prostitution in the eighteenth century.

Volume 49, issue 2 of the Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies is released today and includes an article by Kang-Po Chen, "Virgin Harlot Mother of War': William Blake and the Cultural Image of Prostitution":

The representation of women in Blake’s poetry and its role in his revisionist Christian system have drawn considerable critical attention in Romantic studies. In the existing studies on the Blakean woman, the frequent images of “harlot” and “whore” are interpreted as his criticism of sexual repression and plantation slavery as well as a device of biblical allusion. But even with his most allusive and metaphorical depictions of the harlot, Blake shows his engagement with the changing social perceptions of prostitution and the gender ideologies and institutions established around such perceptions. This paper proposes that Blake was aware of the significant transformation of how the prostitute was viewed in the eighteenth century: from a siren-like embodiment of boundless lust to an unfortunate victim of external circumstances. Moreover, he was aware of the social view that reformed prostitutes could redirect “wasted” sexual passion along the path of productivity. This transformation and its relation to social and political contexts can be discerned in Blake’s juxtaposition of the harlot and her supposed antithesis, the mother, which demonstrates a poignant critique of the ideal motherhood of his time.

Kang-Po Chen holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on British Romanticism, especially the works of William Blake, with particular attention to eroticism, violence, and religion. He has published articles in journals such as Wenshan Review: Literature and Culture, Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, and Romantik: Journal for the Study of Romanticisms. His current research project, funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, examines the cultural image of prostitution in eighteenth-century Britain and its representation in Blake's works.

The article is available at Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies. (Open access.)