Friday, 19 June 2015

Footnoting Utopia

In the early pages of News from Nowhere, Annie leaves William Guest, Dick Hammond and Bob the weaver to get on with her own work: ‘She waved a hand to us, and stepped lightly down the hall, taking (as Scott says) at least part of the sun from our table as she went’ (ch. III). Of the four modern editions of Morris’s utopia I have sitting beside me on the desk, only one bothers to footnote this Walter Scott reference. James Redmond’s 1970 Routledge & Kegan Paul edition does not; nor does Krishan Kumar’s 1990 Cambridge University Press version ; nor again Stephen Arata’s 2003 Broadview Press effort. Only David Leopold’s 2003 Oxford World’s Classics News from Nowhere informs us, in its 120-word endnote on p.187, that 1. Scott was a major Scottish author, above all of historical novels; 2. that Morris was passionately devoted to his works; and 3. that this particular allusion probably comes from Redgauntlet (1824), when Alan Fairford laments Greenmantle’s sudden disappearance.

All four of these editions are aimed at student or general readers of Morris, so does it matter that three of them do not footnote the Scott reference in the text? Could James Redmond have assumed, in the more literate 1970s, that people would very readily know who Walter Scott was, and perhaps even which particular Waverley novel the image of the sun going out comes from, in a way that in the social-media-dominated world of the present we almost certainly cannot any longer. If you do choose to annotate the Scott reference (as you surely should), how much information is enough? David Leopold might, after all, have related it back to an earlier Scottish reference in News from Nowhere. For it is surely the mention of drawing salmon-nets on the river Tay in chapter II, in relation to the return of salmon to the unpolluted Thames, that cues Morris towards Redgauntlet in chapter III, since a tense dispute over Joshua Geddes’s salmon-nets on the Solway occurs early on in that novel.

Individual editors work on particular Morris works when asked to by publishers, and they make their own decisions about what to annotate and what to pass over in silence; but what we never seem to get is any general or a priori discussion about what the principles of Morrisian annotating ought to be, above all in the case of News from Nowhere, which is for so many of us the ultimate Morris text. One way of starting such a debate would be for someone to write an article comparing the merits and demerits of the existing editions, a discussion which would need to encompass the function and mutual relationships of Introduction, Notes, Bibliography, cover images and (where appropriate) material in Appendices – this latter being a category in which Arata’s Broadview tome wins out handsomely.


Kotick said...

Tony, Do you not think Morris might, by 1890, actually identify with Redgauntlet himself, as someone who is struggling desperately to keep a hopeless political cause - Jacobite for Redgauntlet in 1765, but the Socialist League as taken over by anarchists for Morris - in some sort of working order? Might this be why an allusion to this particular Scott novel, out of the many other possible ones, crops up in 'News from Nowhere'?

Tony Pinkney said...

That's a very interesting thought, thanks. I suppose Redgauntlet is as untimely in the post-Jacobite 1765 of Scott's novel as William Guest is in the post-revolutionary future world of 'News from Nowhere' - and as Scott's novel reminds us, an untimely character can be very dangerous! So perhaps we now need a fuller study of the impact of Scott on Morris.