open.conted.ox.ac.uk (beta)

Open Educational Resources

Whirlwinds of Empire: Subversion and the Gothic in William Blake's The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth by Jonathan Perris

Between 1782 and 1830, some eighty authors directly referenced William Pitt the Younger in poetic verse. George Canning’s ‘The Pilot that Weathered the Storm’, in particular, came to be instrumental in the construction of the Prime Minister’s myth and consequently in the understanding of Britain as a benevolent and moralising imperial power. Yet the ambiguity of response to such mythologies of empire, and indeed to the authors who created them, is often underestimated. This article suggests the interesting possibility that one of William Blake’s paintings, The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (1805?), is a direct response to Canning’s poem. It will propose that the sublime terror employed by such texts to construct the imperial Self (by appeals to the colonial Other) is subverted to intense irony through the painting’s engagement with nascent Gothic modes and its satirical employment of the genre of ‘apotheosis’. In particular, Blake’s allegorical use of the destruction of Sodom, the biblical beast Behemoth, and the iconography of Hinduism is seen as satirically echoing both the construction of state narratives and the ‘moralising’ violence of imperial and colonial encounters.

Date created: 
Friday, May 24, 2019
Attribution for this resource:
Whirlwinds of Empire: Subversion and the Gothic in William Blake's The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth by Jonathan Perris, All rights reserved.
Courses using this resource: