William Morris

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Mon Apr 10 09:25:22 MDT 1995


I ran across this review in the April 8 issue of _The People_,
the newspaper of the Socialist Labor Party and retrieved it by
means I will describe in one of two notes below.

** Topic: Review-Sel. Works of William Morris **
** Written  3:04 PM  Mar 29, 1995 by thepeople in
cdp:thepeople.news **
The People
April 8, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 1

AT LARGE--
SELECTED WORKS OF WILLIAM MORRIS

NEWS FROM NOWHERE AND OTHER WRITINGS, by William Morris. Edited
and compiled, with an Introduction, by Clive Wilmer. New York and
London: Penguin Books, 1993. Please order from bookseller or
publisher; do not order from us.

This edition of the selected works of William Morris in paperback
format, though two years old, is still available in many
bookstores. Those who are not familiar with Morris' writings
would find the effort to track a copy down most worthwhile. Those
who are familiar with his works, but do not have a similar
collection in their personal libraries, would also be richly
rewarded by purchasing a copy of this edition.

Morris was one of the most versatile figures of the 19th-century
English socialist movement. He was not only an important and
wide-ranging author and translator but also an artist who
excelled in more than a dozen fields of decorative art, including
stained glass, wallpaper design, tapestries, carpets, printed
fabrics, typography, illuminated manuscripts and book design. As
the editor, Clive Wilmer, aptly points out, "Morris must be
regarded as the greatest European pattern-designer since the end
of the Middle Ages, one moreover who revived several
long-forgotten crafts and skills."

Morris was also a revolutionary Socialist, a founder of the
Socialist League and a frequent contributor to its newspaper,
COMMONWEAL, and an active supporter of workers' struggles.

Wilmer has included in this collection some of Morris' very fine
writings on art and architecture, conservation of nature and
beautification of the environment. Of particular interest to
Socialist readers will be Morris' great socialist novel, NEWS
FROM NOWHERE, and some of his shorter political writings such as,
"How I Became a Socialist," "Useful Work versus Useless Toil,"
and his review of Edward Bellamy's LOOKING BACKWARD.

In NEWS FROM NOWHERE, a description of the socialist society
established after the overthrow of capitalism, Morris has
depicted a clean, rational order, free from all the corruption,
ugliness, pollution, poverty and human exploitation of the former
industrial capitalism. Labor has now taken on a new meaning and
is actually enjoyable and beautiful in a context of equality
between the sexes and respect for all members of society, with
production for use rather than for profit.

The new order had done away with both money and with the old
parliamentary government that had protected special interests. In
its place was a decentralized popular democracy. The old Houses
of Parliament had been preserved but now were used as "a storage
place for manure," which Morris labeled "the Dung Market."
Morris' jabs at England's old manure parliament particularly
amused Daniel De Leon, who thought highly of the novel.

Morris was strongly influenced artistically by John Ruskin and
politically by Karl Marx. His writings, including this novel,
gave a great impetus to the garden city movements in both the
United States and Great Britain. The latter movement promoted
city and village planning, incorporating in each community the
benefits and best aspects of both city and country living.

Morris was deeply concerned by the devastation wrought upon the
quality of life as a result of the industrial revolution.
England, which was once a country of huge and foul workshops and
brick and stone deserts that were its cities, with people crammed
together in unhealthful quarters, in Morris' vision of the future
gave way to agreeable and well-planned communities, cleared of
slums and crowded housing and with pleasant dwellings and open
spaces. All England had become a garden.

His ideas on art and politics are as fresh today as they were at
the time they were written. We can be thankful to the publisher
for providing us with this compact volume, expertly edited and
annotated, which will serve to reintroduce William Morris to the
present generation.

--B.G.
** End of text from cdp:thepeople.news **


NOTES:

1.  _The People_ is available on-line on LaborNet.  If you have
an account with an IGC network (LaborNet, PeaceNet, EcoNet,
etc.), you can get to it by typing "thepeople.news" at the
conference prompt, then "c" (capture), "p" (paging), "i" (index).
Any article can be downloaded.  I assume, although I'm not sure,
that this is equally accessible from other APC networks such as
laneta and gn.  (I know I don't have any difficult getting into
laneta conferences.)  Otherwise you can either (a) subscribe to
the electronic edition by sending the message "subscribe
The_People" to Majordomo at igc.apc.org or (b) sending a note to
thepeople at igc.apc.org and asking them to let you know when their
gopher starts tunnelling (or whatever gophers do when they're at
the sending end as opposed to the looking end).  Several other
left newspapers are available in whole or in part through IGC
conferences, including _People's Tribune_, _The Organizer_,
_People's Weekly World_ and _The Partisan_.

2.  Seeing the glowing comments on _News from Nowhere_ above
reminds of one thing which has always bothered me about that
novel.  In Morris' future, women have been "emancipated" (to use
the 19th century term) for decades.  Freed from the pressures of
the bourgeois family system, etc., etc., they have for the most
part voluntarily taken on the role of mothers, cooks, household
tasks, etc., because once freed from the its compulsory aspects,
the role of women in the family has become fun, and they're good
at it.  Now we do have the experience of the '60s and '70s, with
many women responding the women's movement by getting heavily
into cooking, gardening, etc, as "reaffirmations of the female"
or something like that, so this may not be quite as outer-space
as it seems to me, but I'd very much like to see some comments on
this from any woman comrades who have read the novel.  (It's been
decades since I read any biography of Morris, but my memory is
that although he was a fearless champion of women's emancipation-
-or "woman's" emancipation, as it was most frequently called--his
own wife got a little too emancipated for his comfort and this is
reflected in some of his fiction and poetry.)

Tom Condit


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