Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Questions about William Guest

I’ve been thinking of writing a talk, perhaps for delivery one day in the Kelmscott coach house, which would be entitled ‘Some Reflections on William Guest in News from Nowhere’, and which would attempt to answer a series of questions about Morris’s utopian narrator that have always interested and puzzled me.  But before I do so, I thought I’d share my thirteen questions and canvass the opinions of readers of this blog.  Are there other issues which you think should be addressed about William Guest?  If so, please post them via the Comments facility below and perhaps we’ll arrive at a collective sense of what intrigues us about this strange and memorable Morrisian character.

1.Why does he behave so oddly at the political meeting that opens the book?

2.What do we learn (or what can we infer) of his social background?

3.Is he or isn’t he William Morris?

4.Why, when he arrives in Nowhere, does he choose the surname ‘Guest’?

5.Why doesn’t he just tell the Nowherians that he has come from another time instead of being so evasive about this?

6.Why is he 56 years old?  What is the textual function or necessity of this fact?

7.Is he really old Hammond’s grandfather, and how much does it matter if he is?

8.Is it really his own literary works and visual image that he sees spread around Nowhere?

9.Does he actually grow younger rowing up the Thames?

10.How many times does he go swimming in the book?

11.Did he ever really have a chance of a relationship with Ellen?

12.Would he have done better with any of the other women in the book?

13.Why does he have to go back to the 1890s, and how will he get on when he returns there?

I look forward to your thoughts!


Abraxa said...

Tony, other Morris scholars have raised questions about William Guest too! Here's James Buzard in 1990: "Who is this dreamer? where (in the narrative) does he originate? how are we brought into his mind?" (p.88). Or Patrick Parrinder in 1991: "Just who is Ellen, who is Guest, and how on earth did Guest reach the future in the first place?" (p.32).

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for the references, I'll chase those up. I guess the crucial thing here is how interestingly one answers one's questions about the utopian visitor, rather than just the nature of the questions themselves! Though I also have a feeling that one can ask more interesting questions of Morris's William Guest than one can of other vistors to utopia - Edward Bellamy's Julian West, for example, or Thomas More's, Raphael Hythloday.

Owlfarmer said...

I think it helps to remember that NFN was a response to Bellamy's notion of a utopian future, and to see William Guest as a surrogate for himself as West was for Bellamy (and probably Hythloday for More). Not exactly the same person, but some (in each case) sympathetic to the author's point of view. Perhaps most of Guest's actions were designed to counter what Morris felt to be disagreeable about Bellamy's ideas.

My own lack of curiosity probably stems from my willingness to suspend disbelief in order simply to enjoy wandering through nowhere.