It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts about the Wells-Morris conference at Kelmscott House on Saturday 14 September, not least because of the extraordinary pace at which the day proceeded, with a long series of 18-minute papers jammed back to back with only minimal breaks. That was certainly testimony to the interest the event aroused among potential speakers, but it was also quite a test of the participants’ stamina, especially if (like me) you’d had to be on a train at the crack of dawn to be there in the first place.
Some lively scene-setting by Ruth Levitas and Mike Sherbourne reminded us of Wells’s attendance at Coach House socialist lectures, and we subsequently heard many fine papers, of which Patrick Parrinder’s meditation on ‘Do Utopias Need to be Modern?’ and Rhys Williams’s ‘Moreau’s Eewtopia’ (comparing Wells’s island to Thomas More’s) were particular highlights. Wells and Morris proved an admirable combination, and not just for biographical reasons: a focus on Wells pulls Morrisian-utopian concerns into the twentieth century and forces them into a fruitful confrontation with issues of science, technology and (in terms of literary genre) science fiction, while Morris’s communism sharpens up Wells’s own more diffuse political focus.
Ruth Levitas evoked Hammersmith as a ‘fulcrum of utopian thinking’, and a more formalised Wells-Morris pairing might be a way of furthering that admirable goal. The H.G. Wells Society is a peripatetic grouping that does not have an established base or venue; the Morris Society has the Coach House which is arguably under-used for academic and political work. So if the two societies combined forces in order to take the upstairs Coach House flat back into Morris Society usage, could not the expanded venue then become a ‘Morris-Wells Utopias Centre’ which would celebrate the lives and thought of two of our most important British utopian writers?