Friday, 27 June 2008

Dreams of Fishing

In a fine essay on News from Nowhere James Buzard states correctly that 'When Guest sleeps in the Britain of tomorrow, he doesn't dream' (Victorian Studies, 40:3, 1997, p.466). Such deep mental placidity is at one with Guest's earlier enjoyment of the 'little feast' and entertainment that evening. For in utopia, for the first time, he can enjoy the present moment 'without any of that sense of incongruity, that sense of approaching ruin, which had always beset me hitherto' (chXX).

But if Guest doesn't dream, the utopians themselves do; and this is surely surprising. For if utopia is indeed the place of achieved felicity, then what, under a Freudian theory of dreams as wish fulfilments, could there possibly be to dream about? In this genre, all wishes are, by definition, fulfilled in advance. And yet Morris's Nowherians do dream, as Bob the weaver alerts us early in the book. Summoned by Dick Hammond, Bob asks him cheerily, 'what is it this morning? Am I to have my work, or rather your work? I dreamed last night that we were off up the river fishing' (chII).

I haven't yet seen any commentary on that last sentence in all the copious scholarly writing that we have on News from Nowhere. Even in a place (or genre) where all wishes are fulfilled, the wish to fish - or to fish more - asserts itself clamorously. We know that Nowhere still struggles with the whole area of human sexuality, but it seems it hasn't quite cracked the issue of angling either, since its inhabitants still dream so longingly about it.

There is plenty more to be said about angling, or its lack, in News from Nowhere (how did that fine leash of perch at Ellen's cottage get on the dinner table in the first place, after all?). But we must in the end, I think, interpret Bob's dream as bearing upon Morris's work as a whole. We know what a passionate angler Morris was in real life, and his entire oeuvre, through Bob's dream of fishing, thus seems to be crying out for the fullscale piscatorial interpretation which it has not yet had.


Anonymous said...

Lovely, intriguing question! However, it is premised on the idea that a utopian society is one in which all human needs and desires are met, rather than "contained".

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