- MORRIS, William
- (1834-1896)UK artist and writer whose greatest fame rests on his work as a designer of furniture and fabrics. His efforts to reform the prevalent vulgarity of mid-Victorian taste and to preserve standards of craftsmanship placed him in radical and irresolvable conflict with the basic tendencies of the industrial era, then in the first vigour of its youth. This conflict was variously expressed in his writing. In his early poems, collected in The Defence of Guenevere (coll 1858) and The Earthly Paradise (coll in 3 vols 1868-70), WM created the literary equivalent ofPre-Raphaelite paintings: romances of febrile charm and phthisic delicacy. The relation of these poems to their own time is one of studied and disdainful avoidance. In life such avoidance was to be denied him. He was - at least emotionally-cuckolded on an Arthurian scale by his friend andmentor, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). He became involved in POLITICS through his efforts, beginning in 1878, to save historical buildings from demolition and unwise "restoration". This involvement led him, remarkably quickly, to an active and enduring commitment to socialism.It was from this unusual (for its day) perspective of orthodox Marxism that WM wrote his UTOPIA, News from Nowhere, or An Epoch of Rest (1890 US; rev 1891 UK). Written in immediate response to Edward BELLAMY's Looking Backward,2000-1887 (1888), the novel propels its dreaming narrator from the England of WM's day into a perfected England from which all traces of poverty, squalor and industrial unsightliness have been effaced, an England that bears notable similarities to the bucolic dream-landscapes of his early poetry. As a work of fiction, this most translucent of utopias exhibits all the clarity, grace - and narrative force - of WM's best wallpaper designs. Where the book is most visibly Marxist in inspiration, as in the capsule history of a proletarian revolution in Chapter XVII, it is also most densely and compellingly imagined. Its influence on later utopian writing has been negligible, and on GENRE SF still less, since WM's vision is so relentlessly PASTORAL, looking back to an idealized Middle Ages - which he also represented in the earlier and structurally related socialist romance, "A Dream of John Ball" (in A Dream of John Ball, and A King's Lesson (coll 1888), later issued in its own right as A Dream of John Ball (1915 US)) - rather than to the urban, technologically advanced "future" of common consensus.During the composition of News from Nowhere the Socialist League, which WM had founded in 1884 and funded thereafter, dissolved as a result of an excess of democracy. This event encouraged, by reaction, WM's tendency to make his later writing into a species of highly ornamented wish-fulfilment from which the less savoury odours of daily life were artfully exorcized. The prose romances of his last years - such as The Wood Beyond the World (1894) and The Well at the World's End (1896) - have the same reluctantly valedictory air as his most defiantly escapistpoetry but little of the poetry's hypnotic harmony. He had become, once more, "the idle singer of an empty day". It is these late romances, however, through their acknowledged influence on C.S. LEWIS, J.R.R. TOLKIEN and lesser writers of the SWORD-AND-SORCERY subgenre, that havemost impinged on sf.WM also translated Icelandic sagas and several Greek and Roman classics.TMDOther works: The Life and Death of Jason (1867), a poem; A Tale of the House of the Wolfings, and All the Kindreds of the Mark (1889), an historical romance with fantasy elements; The Roots of theMountains (1889); The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891); Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair (1895); The Water of the Wondrous Isles (1897); The Sundering Flood (1898). Alfred NOYES assembled WM's early work in poetry and prose as The Early Romances of William Morris (coll 1907), ; with poetry cut, vt Golden Wings, and Other Stories 1976 US including the eight stories which originally appeared in Oxford and Cambridge Magazine throughout 1856, some being separately published after his death: The Hollow Land (1856; 1897 chap US), Golden Wings (1856; 1904 chap US) andGertha's Lovers (1856; 1905 chap US). Later collections include: Prose and Poetry (1856-1879) (coll 1913); Early Romances (coll 1924); Selections from the Prose Works (coll 1931), Three Works by William Morris: A Dream of John Ball, The Pilgrims of Hope, News from Nowhere (omni 1968 US); Svend and his Brethren (coll 1909 chap US); The Juvenilia of WilliamMorris, with a Checklist and Unpublished Early Poems (coll 1983 US).About the author: Much has been written about WM. Studies of interest include: William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (1955) by E.P. THOMPSON; WilliamMorris, the Marxist Dreamer (trans 1978) by Paul Meier; William Morris: A Reference Guide (1985) by G.L. Aho.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.