Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Writing on the Image

Writing on the Image: Reading William Morris

Edited by David Latham
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Writing on the Image
    Book Description:

    Writing on the Imageis a collection of essays that showcases the varied canon of Morris.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8513-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Writing on the Image: How We Write and How We Might Write
    (pp. 3-16)
    David Latham

    In ʹHow We Live and How We Might Liveʹ William Morris explains why he has to talk of revolution despite his awareness that ʹpeople beg you to speak of reform and not revolutionʹ (CW23:3). Morrisʹs fear is that reform is evolutionary, offering only modifying palliatives that will enable the present system to adapt, whereas what is needed is a revolutionary ʹchange in the basis of societyʹ (23:3). He concludes with his characteristic denunciation of civilization, contending that if we cannot change the basis of this progressive civilization that our society has evolved into, then ʹlet us as speedily as...

  5. 2 (Dis)continuities: Arthurʹs Tomb, Modern Painters, and Morrisʹs Early Wallpaper Designs
    (pp. 17-30)
    D.M.R. Bentley

    Arthurʹs Tomb(fig. 2.1; 1855) is Dante Gabriel Rossettiʹs first painting of an Arthurian subject and, as such, has been generally recognized as occupying a transitional position between the work of the first and second groups of Pre-Raphaelites. Although dated 1854 the painting was actually executed in the late summer and autumn of 1855, some two years after Rossetti had declared the ʹRound Tableʹ of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ʹdissolvedʹ (Correspondence1:163), and some two months before he made the acquaintance of Burne-Jones and, through him, Morris (Burne-Jones,Memorials1:128–30). Nevertheless, as David Rogers observes, the ʹangularity of [its two]...

  6. 3 William Morris, Shaper of Tales: Creating a Heroʹs Story in ʹSir Peter Harpdonʹs Endʹ
    (pp. 31-42)
    Janet Wright Friesen

    In ʹSir Peter Harpdonʹs Endʹ – the fifth poem in William MorrisʹsThe Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems(1858) – Sir Peter Harpdon, the commander of a crumbling English fortress in France, confers with the leader of the besieging French army, Sir Lambert. Their situation reflects the complex alliances of the Hundred Yearsʹ War, as these men are cousins serving opposing armies. Sir Lambert comes under the pretence of persuading Sir Peter to forsake the doomed English cause and to unite the family on the French side. However, as he speaks, Sir Peter suddenly interrupts their conference with a...

  7. 4 Medea and Circe as ʹWiseʹ Women in the Poetry of William Morris and Augusta Webster
    (pp. 43-60)
    Florence S. Boos

    The most popular literary works of William Morris in his lifetime wereThe Life and Death of Jason(1867) andThe Earthly Paradise(1868–70). Seven reprintings ofJasonappeared before Morris revised it in 1882, and eight more by 1923 (Forman). In 1942, E.K. Brown characterizedJasonin his introduction to a standard anthology ofVictorian Poetryas ʹone of the most beautiful and one of the best constructed poems in modern literatureʹ (463).

    In this essay I will not try to vindicate such assertions (though they seem to me more defensible than later canons might suggest), but examine...

  8. 5 Morris and the Muse: Gender and Aestheticism in William Morrisʹs ʹPygmalion and the Imageʹ
    (pp. 61-72)
    Jane Thomas

    The myth of Pygmalion from OvidʹsMetamorphoseshad a particular resonance for the Pre-Raphaelites. It recurs as a leitmotif in their art and literature, and can be read as an allegory of their aesthetic beliefs and sexual politics. William Morrisʹs revision of the myth in ʹPygmalion and the Imageʹ provides a fascinating model of the relationship between aesthetics and sexuality in the Victorian period. At the same time it demonstrates the complexity of Morrisʹs understanding of the social, economic, and sexual oppression of the individual as well as the tendency towards the aesthetic and sexual idealization of women that was...

  9. 6 The River at the Heart of Morrisʹs Ecological Thought
    (pp. 73-84)
    David Faldet

    As Ellen and William Guest pause under the arch of Shillingford Bridge, inNews from Nowhere, so that Ellen can get ʹa good look at the landscape through the graceful arch,ʹ Guest tells her, ʹIt was one of the minor stupidities of our time that no one thought fit to write a decent book about what may fairly be called our only English riverʹ (News204, 205). One of the minor missions ofNews from Nowhereis to rectify that lack of a book on the Thames.Newsis not, of course, a detailed guide. Such guides for boaters were...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 News from Nowhere as Autoethnography: A Future History of ʹHome Colonizationʹ
    (pp. 85-106)
    Karen Herbert

    Morrisʹs first known letter, written to his sister Emma from Marlborough College on 1 November 1848, may be read as a paradigm indicative of the directions of his later political and aesthetic thought. Because the letterʹs script runs both vertically and horizontally, intersecting lines form a lattice or grid prefiguring not only Morrisʹs fascination with repeating patterns but also his interest in the cartographic capability of narrative forms to chart the coordinates of new worlds. A section of the letterʹs content complements these predispositions: whereas the reference to the schoolʹs closed gates suggests Morrisʹs early awareness of inside/outside, or the...

  12. 8 Clothes from Nowhere: Costume as Social Symbol in the Work of William Morris
    (pp. 107-118)
    Wanda Campbell

    Clothing has always played an important symbolic role in utopian and dystopian works ranging from Thomas MoreʹsUtopia(1516), in which adults wear coarse, simple garments and leave jewellery and silks to children and criminals, to Margaret AtwoodʹsThe Handmaidʹs Tale(1986), in which colour-coded uniforms indicate function and class.News from Nowhere,the utopian romance published by William Morris in 1891, is no exception. Thomas Carlyle, whose work Morris admired, wrote inSartor Resartus(Tailor Retailored) that ʹSociety is founded on clothesʹ (159). In this work, Carlyle established costume as a legitimate metaphor for interpreting social structure. Morrisʹs understanding...

  13. 9 To Live in the Present: News from Nowhere and the Representation of the Present in Late Victorian Utopian Fiction
    (pp. 119-136)
    Matthew Beaumont

    ʹʺI cannot make these present times,ʺ he says once, ʺpresent to me.ʺʹ Walter Pater quoted this statement by Charles Lamb – about the apparent impossibility of configuring the present as a distinct temporal category, in opposition to both the past and the future – during the course of a critical appraisal of the Romantic critic published in 1878 (Appreciations111). Lambʹs comment clearly served as a kind of rationale for Paterʹs aesthetic, which self-consciously revelled in the evanescent quality of the present as a lived moment, as the ʹConclusionʹ to hisStudies in the Renaissance(1873) reveals. In the context...

  14. 10 ʹParadyse Erthlyʹ: John Ball and the Medieval Dream-Vision
    (pp. 137-154)
    Yuri Cowan

    William Morrisʹs understanding of life in the Middle Ages was not restricted to an intimacy with Gothic architecture or a scholarʹs knowledge of primary texts, although he had both of these. Morris immersed himself in the study of the concrete objects of everyday medieval life, surrounded himself with them, and, indeed, could make many of them himself; as a result, he could write as a modern writer in a relatively unstrained medieval idiom. It is significant that even during the 1880s, when his life was dominated by his agitation for socialist change, his interest in medieval culture never flagged: J....

  15. 11 ʹTo Frame a Desireʹ: Morrisʹs Ideology of Work and Play
    (pp. 155-172)
    David Latham

    Debates over the extent to which Marx may have influenced Morris begin with Morrisʹs modest disclaimer about enjoying the historic parts ofDas Kapitalbut finding the economics beyond him (ʹHow I Became a Socialistʹ 380). Morrisʹs modest disclaimers should never be taken literally. He well understood the analysis of economics, but the question of whether it is correct to call him a Marxist is beside the point. The continuity of his interests in Gothicism in his early poetry and barbarism in his later prose romances suggests that Morris was a Marxist before he ever heard of Marx. Yet in...

  16. 12 History Becomes Geography: Tracing Morrisʹs Later Thought
    (pp. 173-182)
    Frederick Kirchhoff

    The question that continues to intrigue me is ʹWhat did Morris really want?ʹ To some extent, the answer is not hard to find. If his socialist essays and works likeNews from Nowherecontinue to ring true, it is because Morris grounded them in his own desire. He imagined a world in which he could imagine himself happy. But this happiness depends on a coming together of two things: knowing what you want and finding yourself at a time and place where you can have it. For a number of reasons, Morris was inclined to imagine the route to that...

  17. 13 Socialist Fellowship and the Woman Question
    (pp. 183-196)
    Ruth Kinna

    William Morrisʹs treatment of the woman question has sometimes been called reactionary. I wish to offer a qualified defence and suggest that his solution to the problem of the woman question is insightful. Morris believed that the woman question revolved around two evils: exploitation in the labour force and subordination in bourgeois marriage. He believed that the resolution of these issues required socialists to recognize that women were naturally different from men. Work and romance were the two principal realms of this difference and he matched them to the problems of capitalist exploitation and marital oppression respectively. This pairing led...

  18. 14 The Reception of William Morris’s Beowulf
    (pp. 197-208)
    Chris Jones

    First published in 1895 by the Kelmscott Press, William Morrisʹs translation of the Anglo-SaxonBeowulfhas had a chequered reception among critics and scholars over the course of the last century.¹ This essay investigates the varied and extreme reactions the poem has elicited since its publication.

    ʹFew people,ʹ Fiona MacCarthy cautions us, ʹhave had a good word to say for Morrisʹs ʺBeowulfʺʹ (649). In 1975, Jack Lindsay politely called it ʹone of [Morrisʹs] least successful productionsʹ (365); in 1967, Paul Thompson condemned it as ʹthe worst thing [Morris] ever wrote,ʹ ʹincomprehensible,ʹ and ʹgibberishʹ (163). More recently, Michael Alexander, another translator...

  19. 15 Morrisʹs Compromises: On Victorian Editorial Theory and the Kelmscott Chaucer
    (pp. 209-220)
    Charles LaPorte

    A great deal of twentieth-century William Morris scholarship is devoted to celebrating the KelmscottChauceras the closest semblance of the medieval manuscript found in printed books since printed books began. This essay proposes to reexamine Morrisʹs difficult position as editor-in-chief of the Chaucer project and, more specifically, to call into question the singleness of purpose we have come to associate with Morris in this role. I begin with the illustrator Edward Burne-Jonesʹs famous commendation of the work to his daughter: ʹI want particularly to draw your attention to the fact that there is no preface to Chaucer, and no...

  20. 16 ʹThe Dream of William Morrisʹ: Marya Zaturenskaʹs Lost Essay
    (pp. 221-228)
    Janis Londraville

    The year is 1907. A five-year-old child is sailing to America from Russia, where her mother had been an embroiderer for a member of the Radziwell family, and her father a groundskeeper. We do not know exactly when the little girlʹs mother died – perhaps on the voyage, perhaps shortly after arrival. But we do know that too soon the father was widowed and the child was sent to work in a garment factory, pulling bastings to help her father with the cost of living in a new country. It was a difficult beginning for a life that would have...

  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-244)
  22. Contributors
    (pp. 245-248)
  23. Index
    (pp. 249-254)