This edition of our question and answer series is with Helen Bruder. The most recent of her editing collaborations with Tristanne Connolly, Beastly Blake, came out last year. Helen’s answers below are lightly edited.
How did your interest in Blake arise?
I met Blake through two wonderful teachers at Oxford Brookes. One a committed Marxist. The other an erstwhile vicar. They gave me so much to think about during my first encounter with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. They were also fantastically open to and respectful of even my wildest feminist interpretations!! Support which was a rare treasure in the late 1980s …
Obviously your interest in feminist interpretations of Blake led to your William Blake and the Daughters of Albion. When did it occur to you to organize a collection of readings of Blake exclusively by women (Women Reading William Blake)?
There were many steps and stumbles along the way! I was very lucky, in that Macmillan picked up my PhD—which became William Blake and the Daughters of Albion—even before I’d finished writing it. I then had a few years away from Blake. My next lucky chance was being asked by Nick Williams to write the gender studies chapter for Palgrave’s Blake Studies guide, and it was whilst I was reviewing material and reading new publications that the idea dawned on me. The patriarchs—however brilliant and benign!—still seemed to be shaping the Blake studies culture and agendas and so forth, and I wondered how some crucial issues might look if just the women had their say. I also really wanted to pay tribute to the work of the first female pioneers, and to hear from them decades on from their first utterances.
You’ve now co-edited several volumes with Tristanne Connolly. How did your partnership come about?
It was another brilliant stroke of luck. When I was writing the gender studies chapter for the Palgrave guide I set 2002 as the cut-off publication date for the new material I’d include in my literature review and that’s the year—of course—when Tristanne’s wonderful William Blake and the Body appeared. We exchanged some cordial e-mails and then a few years later Tristanne visited London, so we met, took a paddle boat out on the Serpentine, and found we floated along together pretty well!
How do the two of you decide on the topic of the next book? And who comes up with the snappy titles?
I think the title Queer Blake came out of some mischievous conversations provoked by the contents of Women Reading William Blake! Then Sexy Blake flowed from the fantastic fun of the Blake and Gender conference we organised in Oxford in 2009 and Beastly Blake felt like a natural progression of themes, although as always the final shape of the collection surprised and pleased us hugely. The topics really just arrive like gifts. We keep in touch, share ideas, and hey presto we find a mutual interest we’re happy to pursue.