Thursday, 31 December 2020

Routledge Companion to William Morris

The Routledge Companion to William Morris, which will be published in 2021, is a spectacular work.  Handsomely produced and richly illustrated, it encompasses pretty well all facets of Morris’s complex and many-sided life in its five hundred and thirty pages.  Familiar topics like interior design, poetry, Iceland, socialism, the late romances and printing are well represented; but less predictable ones, like Morris biographies, the Culture Industry and the Classical Tradition, feature strongly too. 

I must at once declare an interest in the volume, having a piece in it on News from Nowhere, but I think that I am being objective rather than subjective in declaring the book as a whole a marvellous tribute to its editor Florence Boos.  No one but Florence, surely, could have pulled off the massive feat of organisation and sheer hard work which such a mighty tome represents; and the book is an outstanding monument of her lifelong dedication to William Morris studies.

That being said, there are still areas of Morris’s life that would bear further examination.  One that has always intrigued me is the topic of angling, which comes up here and there in the Routledge Companion, but not in a systematic way.  It would be a mistake, I think, to regard fishing as some minor, private hobby separate from the main public concerns of Morris’s life.  He always aspires, after all, to undo such rigid dualisms as private/public, serious/frivolous, work/pleasure. 

I did once have the notion of writing a fullscale study of Morris and Victorian angling, and indeed, in retirement, may now take it up again.  So I offer the proposed chapter headings of that book as an illustration of how the theme might be approached.

1.      The Mania of Fishing: Boyhood to Bad Ems, 1834-69

2.      The Hook in his Behind: Fishing in Iceland

3.      Study to be Quiet: The Victorian Cult of Izaak Walton

4.      The Brotherhood of the Angle: Fishing at Kelmscott, 1871-1896

5.      The Merton Abbey Fishery and William de Morgan

6.      Cooking the Catch and Catching the Cook

7.      A Literary Piscatory: Fish and Fishing in Morris's Literary Works (a: Early Writings; b: Middle Period Writings; c: Socialism and Angling; d: Late Romances)

For, as T. Westwood and T. Satchell flamboyantly declared in their Bibliotheca Piscatoria of 1883, ‘angling has become a force in literature, greater far than that of its kindred sports’. 



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