In a major piece of news on Thursday, the Blake Archive announced that it was publishing a digital version of Vala, or The Four Zoas, Blake’s great, unfinished manuscript.
Begun around 1797 when Blake was completing work on the first volume Edward Young’s long poem, The Complaint: or, Night Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, Blake worked on and revised his manuscript copy, frequently using proofs of the Young volume (the only one out of a projected four to be published) to compose his epic poem and drawing on a similar structure of nine nights to tell his narrative. Although The Four Zoas itself was never completed, in it Blake created his most complete version of the complex psychodrama of the zoas, those “four mighty ones” in every man, and it furnished a great deal of material for his later epics, Milton a Poem and Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion. Northrop Frye called The Four Zoas “the greatest abortive masterpiece in English literature”.
As the editors of the Archive observe (echoing plenty of previous editors), the manuscript is “messy” and “complex”. The version available is currently a “preview” version, with full images but, as yet, no transcription of the separate pages, itself an incredibly complex undertaking. The edition is based on fresh digital photography from the British Library and you can find more technical details on the Blake Archive blog.