We can always learn more about Morris by cross-breeding his texts in new ways – in this case, his translation of the Grettir Saga and News from Nowhere. For what, we might ask of both these works, is the point of adopting the name ‘Guest’ when you arrive in a new household, as the outlawed Grettir does when he stays with Steinvor the goodwife of Sand-Heaps, south of Isledale-River, and as the narrator of Morris’s utopia does when he unexpectedly wakes up in the Hammersmith Guest House in the far future.
In the case of News from Nowhere the reason for adopting the surname Guest is, it would appear, to avoid any complications caused by your time-travelling status so that you can passively absorb as much as possible about the new utopian world all around you, both its political history and the social principles which underlie and shape it. But in the Grettir Saga the choice of the name Guest has a much more active motivation. The outlawed Grettir conceals his identity from his hostess so that he can challenge and defeat the deadly enemies that threaten her household, first the hideous troll-wife and then the even more powerful giant who lives under the waterfall nearby.
Let’s try taking that active model across from the saga to the utopia. We would then have to think of William Guest as having arrived in Nowhere with a very specific mission, even if he himself isn’t consciously aware of it. He is now, on this showing, the potent hero who can rid the Hammersmith household or, by extension, utopia in general of certain dangerous threats that menace it, even if the utopians in turn are not very aware of what these might be (though Ellen and old Hammond have some clues). This, it seems to me, would be a very salutary hermeneutic perspective indeed to take towards News from Nowhere – though it will require a good deal more critical work to develop it in full.