This is the imagined life of a woman who really lived in the late Eighteenth Century - Catherine Sophia Boucher, called Kate - wife of the English poet and artist, William Blake. If you read between the lines of his poetry and letters, this is a story you might find. Other Sorrows, Other Joys weaves fact and fiction to tell the story of Kate's search for identity in the shadow of a man who can "see a World in a Grain of Sand and Heaven in a Wild Flower." Conventional, innocent Kate struggles to understand the world around her in the midst of her visionary husband's free-thinking crusades for freedom in religion, in politics, in love. Janet Warner's original novel dramatically recreates the story of a poet and his spiritual companion and the mystic visions that haunt them both throughout their lives.
As Kate works as Blake's assistant, printing and coloring his designs, she witnesses the psychic powers that distract William from earning a living. She endures the loss of a long-awaited child, Blake's fascination for gifted women, and his frightening trial for treason. Through Kate's eyes, we meet a parade of people prominent in 18th Century artistic circles during the time of the French Revolution, such as the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Swiss painter Henry Fuseli, and the publisher Joseph Johnson - people whose intertwined lives were as unconventional as any Bohemians of a later time. Amidst these turbulent personal and political events, Warner reveals the compelling drama of Kate and William's marriage that survived it all.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
Janet Warner, formerly a professor at Glendon College, York University, is the author of Blake and the Language of Art. She lives near Vancouver, Canada.
Janet Warner, formerly a professor at Glendon College, York University, is the author of Blake and the Language of Art and the novel Other Sorrows, Other Joys: The Marriage of Catherine Sophia Boucher and William Blake.
Read an Excerpt
In Which I, Catherine Blake, Decide To Tell My Story To Mr. Tatham, and Recollect My Early Years
From the Journal of Mr. Frederick Tatham, age 24, Sculptor, and Biographer of William Blake, Artist, Poet, and Visionary.April 12, 1829. 20 Lisson Grove, London.
Although almost two years have passed since the death of my friend the Inspired Engraver and Poet, William Blake, for whom I had the Honour of being Executor, it has never occurred to me till now that I might record for Posterity the recollections of his Beloved Wife, Catherine, who is now my Housekeeper.
It is my Desire to compile a Life of this extraordinary Man, whose Art is as Sublime as his Poetry Obscure, and how better to Understand his Nature than through the words of his devoted Companion in Life?
Indeed Catherine herself is worthy of a Memoir, as she is to my Wife and myself a dear friend, as kind as a Mother or affectionate Sister. We call her Kate, as her husband did. She toils for us harder than she should, for she is past sixty years, and since Mr. Blake's death, increasingly frail. Though careworn, her Visage still shows the traces of a face which must have been lovely in youth, and her Eyes are black and lit with an inner fire, much like Mr. Blake's, and she certainly has a Will of her own.
And what Obedience and Devotion her dear soul showed to her William! Because she had never been a mother, Blake was at once her lover, husband, child.
She would get up in the night, when he was under his very fierce Inspirations, which were as if they would tear him asunder, while he was yielding himself to the Muse, or whatever else it could be called, sketching and writing. And so terrible a task did this seem to be, that she had to sit motionless and silent, only to stay him mentally, without moving hand or foot: this for hours, and night after night!
I will entreat her to tell me her story.
From Kate's Notebook.April 12, 1829.
Now that the supper plates are all put away, and the hearths cleaned and ready for the morning fires for Mr. Tatham, I climb the stairs to my little white-washed room at the top of the house and wait for William. He always comes. First the sound of his voice: "Kate, beloved," he says. Then the room lights up even though I have only one candle. And there he is.
He looks as he did when he was well: broad and strong, with his grey eyes bright and smiling, his brow clear. He sits in the chair by my bed, and he tells me what to do. Today he says I should let Mr. Percy buy his books, so tomorrow I will tell Mr. Tatham, who will be pleased I agree with him for once.
When William sees that all is well with me, he will sing me a song before he goes. It will be even lovelier than the ones he wrote when he was alive, though my favourite is still Infant Joy, the poem for the baby we lost so long ago.
Tonight I say to him, "Mr. Blake, is our baby with you? Is she happy now that you are with her?"
"My beloved Kate," he says, "she is happy. Who cannot be happy in these fields of light? When you come, I will show you."
And so I am content, and go to bed.
* * *
I have not always been content with William, in spite of so many years when I was happy to be his wife, and help with his Art. Now that I am old and have time to remember, I still resent poor Mary Wollstonecraft and all her brilliance. Nor do I forget beautiful Elizabeth Billington, who sang her way into William's heart and nearly broke mine. Yes, a Marriage is made up of many more people than the two who are in it!
All my life I knew I was considered the perfect wife for William Blake. I was helpmate to a talented artist — some even thought him a Genius. Or a Madman. I, on the other hand, was perfect — which meant I always did what was expected of me. And so I did, most of the time. Some Secrets, however, I kept to myself.
* * *
Mr. Tatham is trying to help me sell some of William's work.
Excerpts from a Letter to a Gentleman which Mr. Tatham wrote for me yesterday.
April 11, 1829. Regent's Park, London.
In behalf of the widow of the late William Blake, I have to inform you that her circumstances render her glad to embrace your Kind offer for the purchase of some of the works of her departed husband ...
The artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have done much, but they had friends, pupils, and every assistance; but this man had to struggle with poverty in a Commercial Country, and has produced these mountains of labour, with the assistance only of a fascinated and devoted wife, who, as a beautiful damsel, loved, as a woman, cherished, as a wife, obeyed — as a willing slave incessantly laboured, and as an aged nurse, attended, and alleviated his last sickness; and now, as bereaved, deplores but patiently acquiesces.
... I can only add, that, should you, Sir, be inclined to possess, for the embellishment of your own collection and the benefit of the widow, any of the enumerated works, they shall be carefully sent to you upon your remitting payment.
And communicating either with myself or Mrs. Blake, you will Receive her ample thanks and the acknowledgements
of your obedient and humble Servant Frederick Tatham
Yes, I was a fascinated and devoted wife ... but a willing slave? I was his partner! An aged nurse? Strange, but I have never thought of myself as old.
April 15, 1829.
When William visited me last evening, he said it was a good idea for me to tell Mr. Tatham about our life together, about our early successes, about the quarrels, about that awful Trial, and our descent into Poverty, though rich in Vision always. But shall I tell him about my true struggle, about my Jealousy of William, about my temptations and deceptions? Perhaps it will help me see my life better — to expiate my Guilt — if I now speak of my life, and pray the Good Lord will inspire my thoughts and guide me through the terrors of Memory.
We sit in the Morning Room at Lisson Grove. While Mr. Tatham takes a dish of tea, I clasp my hands carefully on my white linen overskirt, and begin ...
* * *
It was a cool English summer that year, the year I met William Blake. The cottage was dark, but the morning fire kept it cheerful and warm as I sat by the hearth, a girl of nineteen, peering at myself in a bit of polished brass, trying to see if I looked ready to go to Church. I saw a tangle of curly black hair, black eyes, a pale complexion — considering how much time I spent outside in the market garden — and good teeth. I laughed at myself, mostly because I, Catherine Sophia Boucher of Battersea, felt good to be alive in the year of Our Lord 1781. I expected to see William at St. Mary's Church, since we had spoken recently in the Churchyard when he was drawing the tombstones.
I knew I was going to marry William. My Voices told me I would meet my future husband under my own roof — and so it had happened. My Voices are never wrong. They have spoken to me all my life, even before I met William, who had his own Voices and Visions. Later I came to see his Visions, too — but I always had my own. I had girlish dreams as well, of a husband who would look after me, and love me above all other women as the Song of Solomon tells. I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me. And so it came about.
Not long before, my mother told me we were going to have a lodger for a short time, a young man who was feeling poorly because his heart had been broken by a girl named Polly Wood. I was not prepared for what happened when I first saw him.
When I came into the room, a white light pierced my heart. It is he, my Voices said. As he looked directly at me, a wave of Faintness came over me. I ran into the garden to recover. My heartbeat finally stilled, and composing myself, I went back inside.
He was looking into the fire pensively, his fair hair curling about his ears; a rather large head he had, and keen grey eyes. He was not above medium height, but taller than I, and his shoulders were broad. He looked at me and smiled.
I said, "I understand your spirits are low, Mr. Blake." Then he spoke quite openly about his injured feelings, with which I sympathized.
"Do you pity me?" he asked, with a sudden, direct gaze.
"Indeed I do," I said.
"Then I love you," he said.
It happened so quickly.
I believed him. We were already spiritually connected, though at the time I did not have the words to express it, as I have now. To our minds, Pity was a Divine quality, as important as Love, and necessary for love to begin. Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love is God ... are not those William's very words? The Divine Image. That is what we were to each other.
I knew instinctively not to play Courtship games with William. I let him see me naked that summer, standing in a corner of the sunny hayloft, with my long black hair hanging over my shoulders. Of course, I saw him naked, too.
The Nakedness of Woman is the work of God, said William.
The Nakedness of Man is quite fetching, too, said I.
* * *
We began to meet in the Churchyard and walk out together. We rambled the green Surrey fields to the edge of London, or I accompanied William while he sketched. There was a day in late summer when I told him about my Voices, and he told me about his Visions.
The first vision he remembered occurred when he was four years old and God put his head in at the window and set him screaming. Then when he was about eight, walking by Dulwich Hill, he looked up and saw a tree filled with Angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.
"What happened then?" I asked.
"I ran home to tell my parents. My father said I was lying and would have thrashed me — but my mother stopped him." William smiled at the recollection. "Now they believe me," he said.
I felt a little shiver. "Do you see things often?"
"All the time."
"Are you not afraid?"
"Very much afraid. Sometimes I shake with Fear. But then the Vision will speak to me, and tell me to draw its picture. Then I know that I can control it, and even tell it to go away."
"But what if it is an Evil Spirit?"
William put his arm around me.
"There are no Evil Spirits, Kate. There are only Human Spirits. Some might wish to do harm, but one can overcome them with good thoughts. You have the power to overcome any evil — I could tell that about you right away."
I fervently hoped William was right to have such confidence in me.
I did already know I could dispel Evil, but had never told anyone about it. I had been too afraid of what I had seen and done. But now I confessed to William that I could, for lack of better words, stand outside myself and see things as if I were somewhere else.
He was much interested.
"How do you get there?" he asked, clasping my hands tightly.
"I merely lie quiet, close my eyes, and tell myself to leave. A shudder comes over me and I leave my body," I told him.
"Where do you go? What have you seen?" He was agitated.
In truth, I had only experienced this travel twice, for it had frightened me. It had happened in my sixteenth year. The first time, half asleep, I had left myself in my little bed shared with my sister Sarah, and looking down, had seen myself lying next to her. I had no idea how I accomplished this. I felt an infinite freedom and exhilaration. I had only thought a moment about going outside, when immediately I was out in the cow yard, but my feet were not touching the ground. I did not feel cold in the least, though it was winter. I thought I must be dreaming, but I was sensible of a different atmosphere than dream.
I noticed suddenly a grey shape near the barn door. From it emanated a horrible energy. I knew it wanted to draw me in. I experienced terror for the first time in my life.
"Leave me!" I cried in my mind to the shape. And then I prayed.
"Dear Jesus, keep me safe."
I made the sign of the Cross with my two index fingers, and held my arms out in front of me. The evil thing faded away.
I wanted then only to get back to my sleeping self. I was afraid I could not do it. How could I find my way back? Into my mind came the image of my physical self, and I slipped back into my body.
In the morning, I was not sure I had not dreamed. Yet the remembrance of two things, the freedom and the terror, stayed with me for many days.
William seemed to understand everything. Silently, he took me in his arms and held me close for a long time.
* * *
We were not always so serious. One day on our walk we came upon a garden at the edge of a field, and I saw the most beautiful thing. It was a Rose, but it had been made to grow tall and leafless for about three feet, until it burst into a bouquet of pink blooms.
"Oh, how lovely," I said. "I have never seen a Rose-tree before!"
William looked at me and smiled.
"It is like you," he said, "my pretty Rose-Tree."
* * *
My mother used to call me by a flower name, too. Rosebud, she called me. I was her last baby, the youngest of nine alive. My brothers James and Richard were twins, and played with me all the time. They were only a year or two older than I was. My sister Sarah told me when I was five (and she was ten) that there had been twin babies, Charlotte and Juliet, born before Richard and James, but they had died after only a month. We used to play a game of dolls, called Funerals: we'd wrap up our little cloth dolls and pick flowers to cover them, and bury them in the field with stones at their heads. Sister Jane, who was twelve, scolded us and forbade us to play that game ever again, and not to tell Mother.
I thought my mother, Mary, very beautiful. She had large black eyes over which arched dark eyebrows. Her cheeks were plump, so her face seemed all curves. Her hair was curly and dark brown, tied up in a kerchief to keep it out of the way. In spite of all her childbearing, she was not heavy, and moved lightly and quickly, having little patience with any of us who were lazy. She worked very hard herself, which was a pity because she and my father had not always been poor, and could remember better days before I was born, when they owned several acres of land and had a respectable farm.
In those days, my father was a dark, wiry man who had much energy and a good singing voice. His name was Will, and he could remember stories told by his old grandfather, Jean-Bernard. It is said our surname used to be Bourchier, not Boucher, as we came to be called, because Jean-Bernard was a Huguenot and came to England from France to escape the persecution of Protestants in 1686.
Jean-Bernard was just twenty-three years old and wanted to marry, but refused to give up his faith and convert to Catholicism. He was in danger of being tortured, so he fled with his new wife, and they settled near Ely, where there is a great Cathedral. Since he was a carpenter, he soon found work there. His son Richard became a farmer on the edge of the marshes, and that is where Richard's boy, my father Will, grew up.
My father used to tell us stories about the great Cathedral that could be seen everywhere from the surrounding countryside. He used to see it in his dreams, he said, a guardian of the land, standing against the horizon. Sometimes the River Great Ouse would overflow its banks and the Cathedral would look like a great ship, or the island that Ely once was, before the fens were drained, and water surrounded it. He had been told that the whole of England was searched in Medieval times to find oak trees large enough to build the corner posts for the Cathedral's great wooden lantern tower. He told us that when he was a boy, rich and poor would go to services together in the vast nave, and that is where he learned to love music. When he grew up and married my mother, she used to play a little tin whistle and he would sing for us. My favourite song was "Barbara Allen." The tune haunted me.
Our life on the farm in Battersea was always busy. I remember following my father as he walked down the long lines of a plowed field, sowing seed for carrots. He had a bag over his shoulder, and would let the seed slip through his fingers evenly. I was about ten years old then, and he said, "you can do this!"
And so I was given a little leather bag of my own, and I sowed the seeds far and wide, not always in the furrow. When the little feathery green tops began to show, I had to thin my furrows so they were neat. I used to eat the tiny carrots right out of the ground. Nothing tasted as sweet, unless it was the little green peas fresh out of their pods that we sometimes ate as we picked them.
* * *
"Kate, come quick, Blossom's dropping her calf!"
I remember my sister Sarah calling me from my cross-stitch one March morning.
Blossom was our black cow. We all helped look after her and learned to milk her. Each year she had a calf, which my father usually sold, or sometimes we kept it and had two cows that year. This time he said we could keep Blossom's calf and look after it ourselves, so we children were all excited.
Blossom was standing completely silent under the oak tree at the edge of the field, not far from the house. The calf was halfway out. I had seen cows give birth before, but it always surprised me how they did it. The calf just dropped out the back end.
Excerpted from "Other Sorrows, Other Joys"
Copyright © 2003 Janet Warner.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
Part One: London 1829,
1. In Which I, Catherine Blake, Decide To Tell My Story To Mr. Tatham, and Recollect My Early Years,
2. In Which I Marry Mr. Blake And Go To London,
3. In Which I Become Acquainted with the Blake Family,
Part Two: London 1784–1800,
4. In Which We Run A Print Shop and Meet Mr. Hayley,
5. In Which Two Sad Events Take Place,
6. In Which I am Introduced to Henry Fuseli and Paradise Lost,
7. In Which I Meet Mary Wollstonecraft,
8. In Which I Do Not Speak For Sorrow and See and Hear Many Things I Should Not,
9. In Which I See A Ghost,
10. In Which We Give A Party,
11. In Which I Experience Jealousy and Go To Dover,
12. In Which Some Surprising Things Happen,
13. In Which We Have News From France,
14. In Which William Almost Fights a Duel and Mary Almost Drowns,
15. In Which Mary Marries and Dies,
16. In Which My Cards Are Read and I Paint A Picture,
Part Three: Felpham 1800–1803,
17. In Which We Live In Felpham and See Much of Mr. Hayley,
18. In Which Our Stay in Felpham Becomes Unpleasant,
19. In Which There Is A Trial,
Part Four: London 1804,
20. In Which We Return To London and Inspiration,
Part Five: London 1830–1831,
21. In Which Mr. Tatham Behaves Most Strangely,
22. In Which My Story Both Ends and Begins,
Also by Janet Warner,
Reading Group Guide
Other Sorrows, Other Joys is the fictional biography of Catherine Boucher, an intelligent but untutored young woman of the late 18th Century overwhelmed by her environment and the genius of her husband, the English poet, artist, and prophet William Blake. In London, she fights for her identity, intimidated by his genius and the intellectual stature of his friends, Mary Wollstonecraft and Henry Fuseli.
She is threatened by Blake's attraction to Mary and other women, his intellectual and spiritual life, and her growing realization that he has a nervous fear of female power. Using psychic powers of her own, she copes with her marriage, an affair with a young Frenchman, and the experience of living with a religious visionary. She becomes an assistant to William, printing and colouring his works.
She endures trouble: the loss of a long-awaited baby, the marriage and death in childbirth of Mary Wollstonecraft, the depression of William. A chance to move to Felpham under the patronage of William Hayley seems a new start, but Kate's flirtation with Hayley and William's trial for sedition in 1804 is a test of them both. Out of this struggle, their mutual understanding and forgiveness is achieved, as well as her own self-realization. Although this is fiction, Warner has remained true to known historical facts and biographies, imaginatively filling in the blanks, for very little is known about Catherine (Kate) Blake. Real letters were used wherever possible.
The story is told in the first person by Kate, looking back on her life. The "present" is 1829, when she is a widow, and the audience is Frederick Tatham, a young man and admirer of Blake, who manages her business affairs and for whom she is housekeeper. He wishes to write a life of Blake. Frederick himself has aspirations as an artist, and is an enthusiastic follower of the preacher Edward Irving, who has captured the attention of fashionable London. Throughout the novel, there are sections set in 1829, which develop Frederick's character as a would-be saver of souls, especially of the young whore Nancy. At the end of the book, when Kate foresees her own death, she knows that Frederick will burn some of Blake's manuscripts in religious zeal, but that Blake's words will be known to posterity.
1. How do the illustrations in Other Sorrows, Other Joys help you understand Blake's art and the struggle that Kate experiences to understand them herself? What do you see in these pictures? To view many of these illustrations in their original colours, you may like to consult the many fine facsimiles of Blake's Illuminated Books produced by The William Blake Trust, published by Princeton University Press. Blake's work can also be seen online at www.blakearchive.org.
2. The author intended that Blake's poetry, where it occurs in the novel, would help explain the emotional situation. Did this work for you? What do you think of Kate's attempts to write lyrics like William?
3. There is no proof that William Blake was ever unfaithful to his wife, or she to him. Warner maintains that her ideas of trouble in the marriage came from Blake's poetry. Do you think authors are justified in making fictional assumptions about real people? Have you read any other fictional biographies?
4. The life of women in the late 18th Century is portrayed in the novel through the contrasting characters of Kate and Mary Wollstonecraft. In what ways did Mary's unconventional life and radical ideas about the position of women in society affect Kate? Do you think modern women have absorbed Mary's ideas, or does the struggle continue?
5. Kate confides in her Notebook the progress of her experiences with William's visions, and her love affair with Paul-Marc. Presumably, Frederick Tatham would only read her journal after her death, if at all. What effect do the journal entries have on your perception of Kate? Does this device create a feeling of intimacy between the reader and the character? Would Frederick have been shocked by Kate's Notebook?
6. In the epigraph to the novel, the quotation which explains the title refers to wars of sword and fire, to sorrows of poverty, and joys of riches and ease. Yet the question asked is: are there other joys and other sorrows besides these? What are the "wars" in this novel? What sorrows? What joys? Discuss the relevance of the other quotations on this page to the novel.
7. What do you think William's reaction would have been if he had learned of Kate's forgeries? Do you think the "real" Kate would have been capable of such a deed? In the novel, this is only one of the secrets that Kate keeps from William. What are others? Are secrets important in a marriage, or do you believe everything must be shared?
8. The trial of William Blake for sedition is a historical fact. What motivation does the soldier Schofield have for his accusation? Do you think it possible that Hayley put him up to it, as Blake later maintained? How did the trial affect each character in the novel?