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

Caroline Anjali Ritchie


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.


Blake; Bunyan; mapping; ontology; teleology; pilgrimage.

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