Sunday, 7 March 2010

May Morris in New York: A Centenary

The week I spent in New York with my son three Christmases ago was certainly one of the most memorable weeks of my life. It was our first trip out to the Big Apple, and we did many standard tourist things: ice-skating in Central Park and at the Rockefeller Centre, a nighttime ascent of the Empire State Building, a chilly stroll across Brooklyn Bridge, an ice-hockey match in Madison Square, a hike across Harlem to admire Columbia University, the Christmas window displays at Macy’s. My great regret was that the USS Intrepid was not in position as a naval museum that December; I had so wanted to send a postcard of it back to my Uncle Harry, who had served in the Royal Navy in World War Two.

So the memory of that magical winter week comes vividly back as I open Janis Londraville’s collection of the May Morris-John Quinn correspondence: ‘Even though it was January, it was quite unusual for such a great snowstorm to invade New York City. The young lawyer, exhilarated by the company of his lady friend, decided not to attend the reception at Columbia University for the ambassador of England. Instead, he hired a double-seated horse-drawn sleigh, complete with bells, and toured the city with his charming companion. They rode for hours’.

We are still within the centenary of May Morris’s American lecture tour, which lasted from late 1909 to Spring 1910. Personally, the relationship with Quinn caused her much pain: she so clearly wanted it to deepen towards permanence, he very clearly didn’t. Yet intellectually it gave her so much: John Quinn, as a notable patron of modernist writers and painters, must have greatly expanded her own developing sympathies towards modernist art; and as Janis Londraville so truly says, May’s ‘position in early 20th century art and literary circles has been little celebrated’. So when a full account of that hoary but indispensable topic ‘Morris and Modernism’ comes to be written, it will certainly have to include May as well as William himself.


Alias Guenevere said...

This is a very innovative topic. I would like to thank Tony Pinkney for forging new ideas and critical breakthroughs.

Tony Pinkney said...

Dear Alias Guenevere, Thanks for the kind remark! Perhaps what we now need is a one-volume May Morris 'Selected Writings' to put her firmly back on the map. For as she truly said, 'I am a remarkable woman - always was, though none of you seemed to recognise it'. Is there a bold publisher who might take this project on?