As an undergraduate in English Literature at Bristol University between 1975 and 1978, I never encountered any William Morris at all on my degree scheme. We did plenty of Victorian poetry, including Browning, Tennyson, Arnold and Hardy, but Morris’s Defence of Guenevere poems, which certainly had all the qualities of edge, concretion and irony to appeal to the Empsonian predilections of my tutor Moira Megaw, never got a look in. And though the Department as whole did have a culturally militant stance towards ‘technologico-Benthamite civilisation’ (Leavisite codeword for capitalism), since it was staffed by second-generation Scrutineers like Roy Littlewood, that certainly did not extend to having a socialist utopia like News from Nowhere on the syllabus.
Do undergraduates today, in either English or Politics departments, get any better exposure to Morris? There is certainly more interest in Gothic than in literary realism these days, which might make a space for him; but on the other hand, a whole series of new areas has come into focus – literary theory, science fiction, African literature, women’s writing, and so on – which now take up a good deal of the undergraduate’s time in English studies. I think the honest answer is that we simply do not know how much attention Morris’s work gets on the university syllabus in the early twenty-first century. So we need a national and international survey of Victorianist colleagues in literature departments and Left-leaning colleagues in Politics or Sociology to see which Morris texts are getting taught, and, in the longer-term, to encourage more of them on to the syllabus.