Should the William Morris Society not have something to say, publicly and collectively, about the collapse of that 8-storey building housing garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which at least 350 people have been killed? Well, yes, in my view it most certainly should. First, because Morris himself wrote a series of articles for Justice in 1884 on ‘A Factory As It Might Be’, and the utopian projections there imply an angry concern for the actual state of factories under capitalism in his own present. Second, because – in the light of his analysis of the ‘world market’ in News from Nowhere and elsewhere – he would very readily have understood the threats to Third World workers’ lives (makeshift buildings in this case) posed by the First World’s current insatiable appetite for cheap goods.
But will any of the Morris websites (other than this one), official or unofficial, say anything at all about the ghastly tragedy we have just witnessed in Dhaka? I doubt it. In late nineteenth-century debates about whether English Literature was or was not a proper subject for university study its opponents argued that it could not possibly be a rigorous discipline because it amounted to nothing more than ‘chatter about Shelley’. And it seems to me that rather too much of what both the Morris Society itself and other Morris websites offer us is, analogously and disappointingly, just ‘chatter about the Pre-Raphaelites’.