Wednesday, 9 June 2010
H.G. Wells on the Coach House
Those of us who attend Morris Society meetings in the Coach House at Kelmscott House, and who feel that this is a special, well-nigh sacred space for both socialism and utopia due to its historical associations from the 1880s and 90s, might be both amused and bemused by the Coach House’s strange transmogrifications in H.G. Wells’s memories of those days in his Experiment in Autobiography (1934).
He begins by announcing that ‘William Morris held meetings in a sort of conservatory beside his house’ (p.238), moves on to reflect, in the warm glow of memory, on sitting ‘in that little out-house at Hammersmith, a raw student again’ (p.244), and finally ends up, 350 pages later, with a last reference to ‘the old days in William Morris’s greenhouse meetings’ (p.597)!
Is Wells being deliberately belittling here? It’s hard to tell – I find the tone of such passages difficult to gauge. However, I’m rather more impressed by his pronouncement that, en route to such meetings, he and his socialist friends were ‘wearing red ties to give zest’ to the occasion (p.265). Perhaps this is a habit we today might revive, keeping not the red flag but at least the red tie provocatively flying in the Morrisian ‘greenhouse’ in these postmodernly cynical times.