Thursday, 25 November 2010

'Earthly Paradise': the Greatest Hits

Is it possible to hazard an informed guess as to which is the most anthologised of the twenty-four tales in Morris’s Earthly Paradise? To do a full accounting one would need to look first at volumes which offer truncated versions of The Earthly Paradise itself, such as Atalanta’s Race and Two Other Tales from ‘The Earthly Paradise’ (1922) in the ‘King’s Treasuries of Literature’ series general-edited by Sir Arthur Quiller Couch. There are also several prose-version anthologies from Morris’s magnum opus designed specifically for children, such as Tales from ‘The Earthly Paradise’, selected by W.J. Glover in 1913. And one would then need to turn, more generally, to anthologies of narrative poetry and tot up the most popular Earthly Paradise offerings from such collections.

It would be a huge scholarly task to do such an audit in detail, so I can only offer an impressionistic answer to my opening question. But my hunch would be that, as the little King’s Treasuries volume of 1922 already suggests, it may well be Atalanta’s Race which is the most anthologised of all the twenty-four poetic tales. It is not the most critically acclaimed, certainly - that would more likely be The Lovers of Gudrun – but it may, just possibly, be the most anthologised.

As some relevant straws in the wind, we might note that Atalanta’s Race appears in George G. Loane’s Longer Narrative Poems (Nineteenth Century) in 1916, in the ‘English Literature for Secondary Schools’ series; in the World’s Classics Book of Narrative Verse, edited by V.H. Collins in 1930; and in T.W Moles and A.R. Moon’s Longman Anthology of Longer Poems as late as 1963.

If Atalanta’s Race has indeed been the most popular of the Earthly Paradise stories, why should this be? It is a fairly lightweight genial tale, offering no particularly impressive formal or thematic features, so why so much emphasis on it among anthologisers? One troubling answer instantly suggests itself. It is the very first of the Earthly Paradise stories, so does its regular appearance imply that anthologisers have certainly felt the need to have something from so weighty a narrative monument as Morris’s great collection, but have in practice, as readers and would-be editors, not actually been able to get beyond the first story in it?


linda said...

Longmans Class Books of English (c1912) published (in separate vols) The Man Born to be King, Atlanta's Race and the Proud King, and The Wanderers (as well as Glittering Plain & Sigurd). Emily Underdown retold some tales from the EP in one vol (Nelson ?1925):-The Six Gifts (Ogier);The Man Born to be King; The King's Vow; The Apples of Venus (Atlanta); The Dumb Princess; The Story of a Hero; The Golden Slippers; The King's Punishment and The Tasks of Psyche. There are questions at the end of the book on each tale. Only the section of questions on Atlanta's Race includes a 14 verse extract from the original for 'study' by the students. 'William Morris' selected and ed H Newbolt, introd John Buchan (?1927) contains three tales from the EP:- Atlanta's Race, The Man Born to be King and The Proud King. I am enjoying your blog immensely -- how good it is to look at William Morris with such a fresh and careful eye as yours.

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for the kind comments on the blog, Linda, and for the additional 'Earthly Paradise' references. Looks as though 'Atalanta's Race' is still winning the popularity stakes!

Tony Pinkney said...

Amanda Hodgson suggests a possible reason for the editorial popularity of 'Atalanta's Race', it being according to her 'one of the few poems in 'The Earthly Paradise' with an unequivocally happy ending' (p.57).