There can’t be many points of literary contact between William Morris and Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, one would think, but one such might be the role of feet (of all things) in the writings of both men. Beckett’s first biographer Deirdre Bair informs us that ‘When Roger Blin asked him who or what Godot stood for, Beckett replied that it suggested itself to him by the slang word for boot in French, godillot, godasse, because feet play such a prominent role in the play. This is the explanation he has given most often’ (p.333). And the opening vignette of Waiting for Godot is, of course, Estragon sitting on the low mound struggling to ease his tormented foot by removing his boot: ‘He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, tries again’.
Feet in Morris’s literary works function rather differently. For one thing, they are female feet rather than male ones, and while you’d run a mile to get away from Estragon’s smelly appendages, you’d run eagerly towards the delectable female feet of Morris’s imaginings. Discussing his archetypal quest-tale, Fiona MacCarthy mentions ‘the apparition of the maiden with her girt-up gown and sandalled feet (the foot has a curious significance for Morris)’ (p.205). And J.M.S. Tompkins rather bluntly elaborates: ‘Morris’s preoccupation with women’s feet is, as I read, an accepted mark of masochism. Certainly, they are kissed too often, all through his imaginative writing, for modern taste’ (p.80).
So there is one somewhat flippant mapping of literary relations between Morris and Beckett. A more serious one – worth an entire essay rather than just a blog post – would be to ask: will they still be playing Godot, Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape and Not I in the octagonal Hammersmith theatre in News from Nowhere? What, if anything, might a twenty-second-century socialist utopia make of Beckett’s arguably nihilistic drama?