Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Modern Utopia: Wells and Morris

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?


Tony Pinkney said...

I've had several e-mail requests for the full programme for the Wells-Morris conference, so here it is:

Social Fabrics:
Utopias and Dystopias in relation to the Works of William Morris and H. G. Wells


9.15-9.50: REGISTRATION (with coffee in the library)

9:45: WELCOME: Helen Elletson (Curator, Kelmscott House) and Jan Marsh (Current President, William Morris Society).

9.55: INTRO: Ruth Levitas (Chair, William Morris Society): Ghosts: Hauntings of Hammersmith Riverside

10.10: Bill Bell (The University of Cardiff) introducing Mike Sherborne: Morris, Wells and Kelmscott House and:
10.30: Patrick Parrinder (Vice-President, H.G. Wells Society): Do Utopias Need to Be Modern?

10.50: SESSION ONE: Brave New Words: Locating Utopia (Chaired by Patrick Parrinder)
Károly Pintér (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest): The Ontology of Utopia – Morris’s Dream v. Wells’s Ratiocinations
Ben Carver (The University of Exeter): Promised Lands: Utopian Topography in Morris and Wells
Benjamin Barrett (Georgia State University): Morris, Wells, and Romance: Utopian and Dystopian Figurations of Individual and Communal Subjectivity

12:00: SESSION TWO: Dissected Dreams (Chaired by Mike Sherborne)
Genie Babb (SUNY Plattsburgh): Indivisible Man: Probing the Utopian Body in H. G. Wells’s ‘Under the Knife’
Elizabeth Dianne Macaluso (Binghamton University): H.G. Wells’s Critique of Eugenics and Imperialism in The Island of Doctor Moreau
Rhys Williams (University of Warwick): Moreau’s Eewtopia

13:10: LUNCH (in the library)

13:50: SESSION THREE: Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards (Chaired by Emelyne Godfrey)
Helen Kingstone (University of Leeds, Leeds Trinity): Imaginary Hindsight: Contemporary History in William Morris and H.G. Wells
Rob Burroughs (Leeds Metropolitan University): ‘Savage Times Come Again’: The African Soldiery in H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899)
Tony Pinkney (Lancaster University): News from Nowhere Two: Principles of a Wellsian Sequel
Vera Benczik (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest): The Urban Wasteland in H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds

15:20: TEA (in the library)

15:45: SESSION FOUR: Art and Society (Chaired by Bill Bell)
Sarah Faulkner (University of Edinburgh): Labour and Community in the Utopian and Dystopian Fictions of William Morris and H. G. Wells
Kirsi Kaisla Sundholm (University of Turku): The Finnish National Painter as an Apprentice of Arts and Crafts Ideas after 1895 as well an Intermediary to Russia c. 1898-1906
Sharon Worley (University of Phoenix/North American College): Gender and Utopia in the William Morris Circle
Jennifer Walker: Alternative Utopias: The Cobden-Sandersons in Hammermith and Switzerland

17:15: ROUNDUP with Ruth Levitas and Patrick Parrinder

17:30 (approx) CONFERENCE CLOSE

18:00: GO FOR DRINKS AND FOOD at The Dove!

Kotick said...

Sounds an excellent event! Were you aware that Patrick Parrinder extends his thoughts on modern utopias in a review-essay entitled 'Modern Utopias, Major and Minor' in 'Modernism/Modernity', vol 19, no 4, 2013, pp.793-798? Well worth turning up.