To answer the question of why Enitharmon’s eighteen hundred year-old slumber is described as a “female dream,” we must first establish exactly what her dream is. There are three important facts about her dream:

1)      It begins with the birth of Christ and lasts for eighteen hundred years until the French Revolution.

2)      It is a dream of female domination of men: it begins with Enitharmon calling on her sons so “That Woman, lovely Woman! May have dominion” (8/5:3).

3)      It entails the introduction of ideas about the immortality of female sexuality: Enitharmon tells Rintrah and Palamabron to “tell the human race that Woman’s love is Sin” (8/5:5).

As it lasts from the birth of Christ to the French Revolution, Enitharmon’s dream is pre-French Revolution Christianity. However, the depiction that follows is entirely about the consequences of a woman’s choice rather than male subjugation of women. The description of this period as a “female dream” suggests that women desire dominion over men, but chose to achieve it through underhand methods. Therefore, they merely experienced the illusion of being in charge. This is emphasised by the facts that Enitharmon has to call upon her sons to enact her wish of female dominion and that she sleeps during the apparent reign of women. Paradoxically, Enitharmon is passive when she changes the nature of all humanity.

The dream is a female one because it is about female desire. As Enitharmon is “the Eternal female” from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the Great Mother and occasionally plays the part of Eve, she problematically stands for womankind (Damon 125). She is aware that her actions will affect all women because she says that “from her childhood shall the little female/Spread nets in every secret path” (8/5:7-8). So she represents a female desire to subjugate men while also embodying Eve’s sabotage her own sex and the human race. She is depicted as the one responsible for propagating negative ideas about female sexuality. Blake is suggesting that female desire is powerful and dangerous. However, we also suspect that Enitharmon is confused about what she wants for women.

In informing the human race that women’s love is a Sin, Enitharmon denies women the ability to use overt erotic capital and limits their lives to performing underhand romantic conquests. This evokes Mary Wollstonecraft’s critique of these female manners as destructive to women’s emotional and intellectual development. Blake alludes to this both in his description of the female as “little” and her spreading nets in secret paths. However, in making Enitharmon responsible for why women must do this, Blake suggests that such artifice is inherent to female nature. Enitharmon is underhand in establishing female dominion because she tricks humanity and gets two men to do it on her behalf. In presenting this depiction of female desire undermined by female self-sabotage, Blake presents a female dream as the illusion of female power. What troubles me is that this illusion is presented as resulting from the desires of women rather than the desires of men.

Works cited

Damon, S. Foster. A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake. Hanover and England: University Press of New England, 1988. Print.

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