Sunday, 6 December 2009

Kelmscott 'News from Nowhere'

Professor Antoine Capet’s fine lecture on ‘William Morris and the Arts of the Book’ at Kelmscott House on Saturday 28 November was illustrated for a good stretch of time on a screen behind the speaker by the first page of the Kelmscott edition of News from Nowhere. Gorgeous decorated borders surround the heavy Kelmscott typeface of the text itself, and the first letters of the first words of the first two paragraphs become enormous and elaborately floriated initials, visually dominating the entire page.

And how do those first two paragraphs begin? Well: ‘Up at the League’ kicks the first one off; and ‘Says our friend’ is the beginning of the second. So the giant letters U and S spring at us from the first page of the Kelmscott utopia. U and S or, since the eye slides so readily from one to the other, US. In a chapter which tells of a deeply divided socialist meeting (‘six persons present, and consequently six sections of the party were represented’), the visual layout of the Kelmscott page asserts, against the grain of the printed text itself, that a profound collective identity or ‘US’ underlies the immediate political dissensions.

Morris thus beautifully takes advantage of the serendipity of writing (the letter ‘u’ starting one paragraph, ‘s’ the next) to affirm a serene message of confidence about socialism’s longterm future which still speaks to us so compellingly from the Kelmscott page.

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