Sunday, 21 November 2010
The Socialist Reading Room
In Morris’s Socialist years a reading room and newsroom were provided at Kelmscott House; they were under May Morris’s supervision and opened from 10.30am to 1.00pm on Sundays. Fiona MacCarthy informs us that ‘Walter Crane had suggested a reading list for young Socialists and Morris presented a number of volumes, including a copy of Shelley’s Poems’ (p.520).
Does Crane’s reading list survive anywhere, I wonder, or can we reconstruct what it might have contained by educated guesswork? Was Shelley on it or not, or was that an additional graceful thought of Morris’s own? If we can speculatively put a list of titles together, what was it about these books that made them pedagogically suitable for young socialists specifically?
And Walter Crane’s 1880s reading list might inspire us to draw up one of our own. What would a suggested course of reading for young socialists look like today, in the 2010s? I’d certainly be inclined to have G.A. Cohen’s delightfully produced little book, Why Not Socialism? (2009), with its audacious ‘camping-trip’ metaphor, high on the list. We, in the postmodern, have lost sight of the question of socialist pedagogy for the young; and if the more buoyant and innocent movement of the 1880s and 90s can reactivate that question for us, it will have done us a great service.