Thursday 22 January 2009

The Guardian's 1000 Novels

So this morning, finally, on day six of the series and under the rubric 'Science Fiction and Fantasy', News from Nowhere has featured in The Guardian newspaper's '1000 Novels Everyone Must Read' set of supplements. I'm pleased it's there, of course, but goodness me, the quality of the description of Morris's utopia leaves an awful lot to be desired.

'Strongly influenced by Edward Bellamy's hugely popular Looking Backward': well, yes, but 'influence' in this case actually means absolute point-by-point rejection of Bellamy on virtually every aspect of his centralist, high-tech, reformist, urban utopia!

'Having gone to sleep on the London underground, the narrator awakes to find himself in 20th-century Hammersmith'. Morris's narrator William Guest does not go to sleep on the underground train; he gets back to Hammersmith and goes to bed, and finally to sleep, in his own house. Nor does he wake up in the '20th century'. As Krishan Kumar states firmly in his fine edition of the work: 'The revolution occurs in 1952; William Guest's visit takes place some 200 years later' (p.138). So: 22nd century, not 20th.

Guest later, the Guardian entry tells us, 'travels up the river to Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed'. Well, yes, it was signed there, though the book itself makes nothing of that fact; much more crucially, however, Guest at Runnymede meets the energetic and enigmatic figure of Ellen, the woman he falls deeply and troublingly in love with as the river journey continues.

And they end up doing 'some idyllic haymaking in Oxford'. Wrong again. Guest and company pass through Oxford by boat. The hay-making is taking place much further upriver at Kelmscott. When did The Guardian's 'JS' last read News from Nowhere, one dolefully wonders?

Mind you, in a supplement that misses out Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed and Kim Stanley Robinson's stunning Mars trilogy, the most important recent science-fictional utopias of them all, we should, I suppose, be glad that Morris gets a look in at all.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Morris's Favourite Phrases

Every Morris fan will have his or her own mental list of the phrases which, according to contemporaries and biographers, were constantly on Morris’s lips. I offer my own haphazard gleanings from the field (with a brief indication of their sources) and hope that readers of this blog may add to them, so that we shall eventually between us compose a full chrestomathy of William Morris’s recurrent phrases:

‘“When I was a little chap” was a phrase constantly in his mouth …’ (J.W. Mackail)

‘So much as I seem to have to do! – the words were in one form or another habitually on his lips … ‘ (Mackail)

‘… the work of Wren and his successors down to Wyatt, the architects of “the ignorance”, to use that Arabian phrase which Morris was so fond of quoting …’ (Mackail)

Phrases which Morris used from Dickens: ‘Morning, morning!’ (Boffin in Our Mutual Friend); ‘Wot larks!’ (Joe Gargery in Great Expectations); ‘Bring him forard, and I’ll chuck him out o’winder’ (Mr F’s aunt in Little Dorrit). Mackail is again the source.

‘… a phrase that was constantly on Morris’s lips was that, according to the French proverb, “Better is the enemy of the good”’ (F.S. Ellis)

When F.S. Furnivall objected to the colours of a cabinet Morris was painting in Red House ‘the only reply was “Don’t be a
d[amned] fool”. Morris generally set you down in that way if you did not agree with him’ (F.S. Ellis)

‘A favourite expression of his in starting one of his tirades was: “The fact of the matter is – “’ (Arthur Compton-Rickett).

'The ipse dixit of Morris was usually preceded by the phrase "in point of fact" which became one of the Society's catchwords' (James Alfred Wilkes)

Thursday 1 January 2009

New Year's Greeting

Warm greetings to all readers of this Morris blog from its author on New Year’s Day 2009! It seems a long time indeed since I put up the first of its 41 entries on 2nd October 2007, and occasionally it has felt hard to sustain under the pressures of a busy academic teaching career. What has kept me going – appropriately enough for a Morrisian blog site – is fellowship, your genial fellowship as readers from across the globe, and particularly the active fellowship of those who have commented on the blog entries (AliasGuenevere has distinguished herself here, with owlfarmer offering some very helpful thoughts too).

I have tried to keep a rough balance in my entries between the historical and the utopian, between a scholarly interest in William Morris in his own historical moment and a more urgent sense that he must be rewritten, reworked and remade in our own time. And I have been constantly inspired by Fiona MacCarthy’s stress on ‘the detail of his idiosyncracy and strangeness … his oddities and quirkiness of language’. So, if you don’t feel I’ve got the balance right, please tell me; better still, why not start a Morris blog of your own? It is, I think, a quite new form of writing, an interesting, perhaps even therapeutic amalgam of the journalistic, the scholarly and the creative; so the more of them we have around Morris’s giant figure and copious oeuvre, the better.

Sincere thanks to you all, at any rate, for visiting this site to date, and I hope it may continue to be of interest in the months and years to come. Best wishes too for all your own Morris- and utopia-related projects in 2009.