Mapping Bunyan, Mapping Blake: William Blake’s (Anti-)cartographic Imagination


  • Caroline Anjali Ritchie University of York and Tate Britain


Blake, Bunyan, mapping, ontology, teleology, pilgrimage.


Characterising William Blake as both a cautious participant in and a serious critic of contemporaneous mapping practices, this article posits that Blake’s work sheds light on some central interpretive and onto-epistemological problematics involved in the mapping of texts. As a focal point, I consider Blake’s watercolour entitled The Dreamer Dreams a Dream (1824-7) in the context of the wider tradition of illustrations relating to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). I chart the rise of a strongly cartographic impulse within this tradition. The Dreamer epitomises Blake’s own contradictorily anti-cartographic imagination. In this and other designs, Blake exhibits a discomfort with the linear, pre-scripted models of narrative time and space that often underpin the visual logic of contemporaneous maps, choosing to obscure the prospect of arrival at a spiritual or physical telos. In part, through its hazy and partial depiction of a spiritual journey, John Bunyan Dreams a Dream illuminates the interpretive and rhetorical potentialities of mapping texts, insofar as such a manoeuvre puts a fissure in the Calvinist predestinarian disposition of Bunyan’s narrative. More broadly, Blake here and elsewhere advances a vision of maps, journeys, journeyers, and worlds as emergent, co-constitutive sites of perpetual becoming.By identifying this agon in a specific instance of Blake’s attempt to map a literary text, we can arrive at a useful characterisation of his anti-cartographic imagination. This characterisation could in turn be brought to bear on a frequent critical impulse to read and model Blake’s own mythographic texts in cartographic or diagrammatic form.

Author Biography

Caroline Anjali Ritchie, University of York and Tate Britain

Caroline Anjali Ritchie is an AHRC-funded PhD Student at Tate Britain and the University of York. She holds a BA from the University of Oxford and an MA from the Warburg Institute. Her research relates Blake’s work to the history and theory of mapping.


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