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October 08 , 2010

Gates of Paradise


It is 1852 and Alexander, a young biographer in search of the truth about William Blake, has parted from his new bride and travelled to the village of Felpham. For it was here that the scene of Blake's darkest hour – the mysterious incident that caused him to be tried for Sedition – occurred. But the villagers hereabouts don't have much to say on the subject, and go strangely quiet whenever the trial is mentioned.
We travel back to 1800, when William Blake and his faithful wife Catherine have just moved to Felpham to take up the promise of work under a new patron, William Hayley Esquire. This tireless taskmaster soon gives Blake so much work that his own poetry is neglected. Trying to appease his patron and still find time for his masterpiece frays Blake's nerves beyond endurance.
Witnessing this exchange are Betsy and Johnnie, two young lovers employed in Mr Hayley's service. In awe of Blake's beautiful engravings and glorious paintings, Betsy enlists Johnnie to teach her to read so that she can experience Blake's poetry too. The happiness Betsy finds in Blake's words and Johnnie's arms is short lived, for the terror of invasion by Napoleon is a constant dark cloud on the horizon.
When invasion looks imminent, soldiers flood the quiet town with their bright red uniforms and arrogant, drunken behaviour.
Now is the time that the villagers must come together to defend William from heinous accusations that, if proved, will lead to prison or worse. But will they have the courage? And will Alexander, fifty years after the event, discover what truly went on at the trial?

In Gates of Paradise, first published in 2006, Beryl Kingston vividly re-imagines the historical events which led to William Blake's trial for sedition in 1803.
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