Thursday, 1 November 2012
The Jane Morris Letters
The Collected Letters of Jane Morris, edited by Frank Sharp and Jan Marsh, is such a beautifully produced and meticulously edited volume, and gives so vivid a sense of Jane Morris herself across its 570 letters, that it seems churlish to ask for more. And yet it is the book itself that prompts one to do so. For example, I’m glad to learn from the editors that Jane’s handwriting is ‘steady, clear, cursive ... simple and direct, lacking both “copperplate” loops and calligraphic flourishes’, but I also want to see this for myself, to make my own judgements about what qualities of character might be deciphered from such writing, so surely a book as comprehensive as this might have found room for a photographic reproduction of at least one of Jane’s letters.
Jane at moments holds forth to correspondents about her own craft activities – ‘I achieved the design for your book cover’, ‘I am sending you a bit of embroidery I finished for you long ago’ – and I would therefore gladly sacrifice the book’s colour image of Rossetti’s picture of Rosalind Howard or even one of its many Rossetti versions of Jane herself, for an image or two of her craftwork, so that we should see her as a subject rather than object of aesthetics (since transforming her from object to subject, from silence to voice, is the very point of this volume in the first place). I’m intrigued too to learn of ‘two surviving letters’ by Jane’s sister, Elizabeth Burden, and would have liked to have them in a brief Appendix to this collection.
Still, this is indeed a wonderful tome, which leaves us enduringly in its editors’ debt. Its learned footnotes also intrigue by virtue of the number of references they contain to unpublished letters by William Morris himself, which makes one suspect that Norman Kelvin’s great four-volume Collected Letters may not be so definitive after all. Who, I wonder, is going to be bold and assiduous enough to gather all the Morris strays together to complete the project?