William Morris’s social vision in News from Nowhere is sometimes seen as technologically backward and excessively pastoral, with its Utopians flitting among the Thames-side fields and flowers in Dylan Thomas mode, ‘happy as the grass is green’.
I have written about this issue elsewhere, since I feel there are ways in which the book itself incorporates and actively responds to this kind of critique. But if Morris’s utopia truly were as technologically simplistic as its detractors suggest, then it would have an eminently appropriate inhabitant in the person of his closest friend, Edward Burne-Jones; for, as we learn in Penelope Fitzgerald’s biography of the painter, ‘he was defeated by the simplest mechanical devices, even drawing-pins’ (p.35).
The mind boggles. I sometimes struggle with the DVD recorder or with putting a new battery into my mobile phone or with the complexities of page set-out on the laptop – but drawing-pins ... ?