Wednesday 15 March 2017

Hyndman and Morris in Cambridge

I have sometimes toyed with the idea – especially now that my granddaughter is growing up there – of writing a book on William Morris in Cambridge as a counterpart to my William Morris in Oxford: The Campaigning Years, 1879-1895 (Illuminati Books, 2007).  What has stopped me so far, I suppose, is a sense of disproportion in the materials across the two universities: Cambridge did not have the deep emotional resonance for Morris that Oxford so abundantly did, and in his later, campaigning years he only spoke there twice as opposed to seven times amidst the Arnoldian dreaming spires.

None the less, there would be interesting research questions to pursue in relation to those Cambridge visits, and some of them are actually posed to us by the participants themselves.  Here, for instance, is H.M. Hyndman, fellow-leader in the Democratic Federation, reflecting on the Cambridge political debate of 5 February 1884 in his The Record of an Adventurous Life (1911): ‘It is a little strange to recall now that in 1883 or 1884, I forget which year at the moment, I proposed an out-and-out Socialist Resolution at the Cambridge Union, of which I am a member, and Morris and J. L. Joynes came down to support me.  It was not a bad debate, and we actually took thirty-seven men into our Lobby.  What has become of those revolutionary undergraduates of more than a quarter of a century ago?’

Yes indeed: where are the snows – or in this case, revolutionary undergraduates – of yesteryear?  Would it be possible for the assiduous researcher to track down the names of Morris and Hyndman’s 37 youthful supporters that day, and then to follow through their subsequent careers to see to what extent the rest of their lives embodied (or not) the progressive politics they had displayed on that memorable occasion?  So whether there is or isn’t a full book’s worth to be written on ‘Morris in Cambridge’, there are still plenty of local tasks left to carry through under that suggestive rubric.

Friday 3 March 2017

William Morris in Japan

Morris is fortunate indeed in having as energetic an advocate as Professor Yasuo Kawabata of Japan Women’s University in Tokyo.  In 2013 Kawabata brought out a translation of News from Nowhere into Japanese, an elegant, pocket-sized paperback in the ‘Bunko’ series from the prestigious publisher Iwanami Shoten.  With its maps of the book’s journeys across London and up the Thames, its copious notes and substantial Translator’s Afterword, the volume helpfully orientates Japanese readers towards Morris’s peculiarly English utopia. 

With his appetite for translation apparently undiminished by this achievement, Kawabata then collaborated with Economics Professor Hideaki Ouchi to produce in 2014 a Japanese version of Morris and Bax’s Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (1893), a book which even over here is less well-known than it ought to be.  The volume is a sturdily produced hardback from Shobunsha, and in the accompanying essays, Kawabata situates this work within Morris’s personal and political biography, while Ouchi ranges across the politics and economics of communism. 

More recently still, Kawabata has produced a substantial monograph of his own, William Morris and His Legacy, published in Japanese last year by Iwanami Shoten.  The first part of the book explores the full range of Morris’s own aesthetic production, the second addresses Japanese figures strongly influenced by Morris such as the socialist and children’s literature author Kenji Miyazawa and the philosopher Yanagi Soetsu, founder of the Mingei folk art movement, and the third part reviews a selection of writings on the concepts of anarchy and beauty in the Victorian and modern periods (including some searching analyses of Fiona MacCarthy’s work).  John Ruskin is also a significant presence throughout.  We can perhaps now look forward to Professor Kawabata bringing Morris’s cultural and utopian theory into a full encounter with the complex postmodernity of the early twenty-first-century.

As if these endeavours were not enough, however, the indefatigable Kawabata has also written books on George Orwell and on George Best, and has been a central figure in the Japanese reception of Raymond Williams’s work.  We can no doubt expect much further admirable Morrisian work from him in the future, and all one can say as an English admirer is surely: more power to his elbow!