Gates of Paradise

Written by Beryl Kingston
Review by Sara Wilson

In 1800 the poet, William Blake, and his wife, Catherine, move from London to the tiny rural community of Felpham, in Sussex. There they live until 1803, with William working all hours as an engraver whilst trying to find time for his poetry. Great favourites in the village, the locals are shocked when William is charged with sedition after forcefully ejecting a soldier from his garden. In spite of aristocratic intimidation young Johnnie Boniface, along with his beloved Betsy, rally together nine witnesses in support of William and one day in 1804 they crowd into the court in Chichester to give their evidence.

Nearly 50 years later Alexander Gilchrist arrives in the village intent on uncovering the truth behind the incident for his proposed biography of William Blake. Unaccountably, he meets a wall of resistance from the locals who remember the “mad” poet, made all the more peculiar because of the respect and fondness the elder villagers obviously had for the hard-working Blakes.

Told partly in flashback and partly in epistolary chapters, Gates of Paradise focuses on the three years the Blakes resided in Felpham and on the dramatic events leading up to the sedition charge. Beryl Kingston writes with such a lovely light-handed touch it is impossible not to warm to her novels. There are some great character studies, whether of the more eccentric or the more conventional locals, and a terrific mix of mystery and romance.

Although I’m not usually a fan of dialect rendered phonetically in dialogue it would be petty to hold this against such a charming and kind-hearted novel.