Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Festival of Unfinished Works

May Morris notes that ‘many times our poet [i.e. her father] said he could never forgive Dickens for dying before he had finished Edwin Drood. We used to have endless fireside discussions over the Mystery, each one bringing a different solution, to which objections were raised and argued out - all in vain’ (Collected Works, vol XXII, p.xxi).

Adopting the very same principle, we ought not to forgive Morris himself for dying before he could complete such intriguing late romances as ‘Kilian of the Closes’, of which he wrote forty-two pages, and ‘The Story of Desiderius’ (his Roman tale), of which he completed a mere ten. And we could surely ourselves adopt the Morris family practice of having spirited discussions about where such works might be tending, of formulating our own detailed narrative solutions to them, and of subjecting these to comradely critical debate in relation to Morris’s known critical principles and the models afforded by his other late romances.

How would Kilian acquit himself as he joined the men of Whatham in their struggle against the vicious Baron of the Seven Towers (who gelds his captives)? How would his relationship with the mysterious lady of the wild-wood develop, after she has given him the magic ring that lets him see the Fountain of Thirst; and why does his new friend, Michael of Higham, seem oddly jealous of Kilian’s connection with her?

Of the Desiderius story, May Morris lamented that ‘it is to my lasting regret that this tale of the encounter of Barbarian and Roman was not worked out to the end’. It would certainly have been fascinating to see how Desiderius’s relationship to his unsavoury mother, father and uncle might have developed, and to find out why his mother’s new thrall has such an aura of mystery around her from the start. Whether the enunch, Felix, might in the end have proved a trusty mentor to Desiderius is anybody’s guess.

Indeed, I would like to see the William Morris Society organise a ‘Festival of Unfinished Works’, which would encompass Morris texts beyond the two I have just mentioned, and which would offer the opportunity of eventual publication to those speculative completions of Morris which won most collective favour on that occasion. If the Morrises could attempt to complete Dickens, it should not be beyond us to try to complete Morris!

1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

Jack Lindsay in his Morris biography has no doubt about the way 'Kilian of the Closes' will develop, in terms of both plot - 'clearly Kilian was to come forward as champion of the craftsmen' - and method of characterisation - 'Morris was going to be more concerned with the inner life of the characters than in other romances' (p.372).