News from Nowhere by William Morris.

News from Nowhere is a utopian novel by William Morris, first published in 1890. William Morris I think is perhaps best known as a painter and textile designer, closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founded in 1848. But Morris was also a writer, his works including the epic poem The Earthly Paradise (1868-70), The Well at the World's End (1896), and of course News from Nowhere.

William Morris has been very much influenced by Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle (1843) and grew increasingly against Victorian capitalism, finding refuge in Medieval culture with its art, literature, and even architecture. He became a socialist, involved with the Social Democratic Federation and then founding the Socialist League (1884 - 1901), though abandoning it in 1890. Socialism contains a myriad of movements - Morris, in his university days, began to associate with Christian socialism, which is a socialism based upon the teachings of Jesus, arguing that the worship of money has displaced God and that money is the root of all evil, and using Bible references such as "Defend the poor and the fatherless. Vindicate the afflicted and the poor. Rescue the poor and the needy, delivering them from the power of the wicked" (Psalm 82: 3-4), "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6: 10), and "He executes justice for the orphan and the widows, loves the foreigner, and gives them food and clothing. You are to love the foreigner, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:18–19). I picked on these specifically because I think they're worth noting in this current political climate. 

News from Nowhere is a socialist classic - utopian science fiction. It begins with the narrator, William Guest, returning home from an acrimonious meeting with the aforementioned Socialist League. He falls asleep and wakes up in 1955, a time where Marxism meets an idealised Medievalism that Morris was so fascinated. Here is a time where there is no private property, no cities, no money, and no prisons, social class is a thing of the past, and there is no kind of hierarchy; Morris himself had interested in anarchy, and I think here it's important to note that the very definition of anarchy is simply without authority - "a", or "ἀ" from the Greek meaning without, and "archy" or ἀρχή meaning leader or authority, so literally 'without rules' or leadership. Like socialism however, the interpretations are numerous. 

Morris uses this structure to reply to the objections to socialism, using characters such as the wise Old Hammond, Dick and Clara, and Ellen and giving the reader a very vivid vision of a socialist society. It is a beautiful work, inspiring too, but very much of its time; women, for example, are seen as 'bearers of children' who continue to look after the home. This is not an unusual belief for the 19th Century and I doubt very much that people will read it as a handbook on how to live like socialists. It is simply a beautiful and insightful work and it does answer some questions people may have on this topic. It's also a very sad book, through no fault of Morris: as I say it is set in 1955, a utopia Morris created and no doubt hoped for, so far away from how things really turned out. I loved reading it, despite that melancholic air, and though for it's vision it is far from perfect, it is a very hopeful work and almost practical in not only in it's attempts to answer questions but also in the fact Morris offers this vision to accompany what would be an abstract idea. 

Comments

  1. This has been on my shelf for years. Someday I'll get to it! You're the second person who has blogged about it in the last several months...

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    1. Really? Do you remember who else did? Interesting to see other people's thoughts... :)

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  2. It has been replaced as a handbook by The Lord of the Rings.

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    1. Funnily enough I've had Lord of the Rings on my mind since I read this, without particularly associating the two. Thinking of re-reading LotR at some point.

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  3. i think "55 actually WAS utopia, compared to now, anyway... i have this book, also, and have plans, secret plans(HAHAHAHA) to read it one day... seriously, i'm fond of Morris's fantasies and have read most of them, i think...

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    1. This is my first Morris - do want to read Earthly Paradise and Well at the World's End soon :)

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  4. My little squib on News from Nowhere is from March. I don't know if that is what Jean had in mind. Tolkien more or less took the Morris novel as the basis for the economy, such as it is, of the Shire. The end of The Lord of the Rings, the much-hated Scouring of the Shire, is pure Morris, or perhaps half-Morris and half-Ruskin.

    I would like to recommend, perhaps before either of the longer books you mention, Morris's earliest short fiction in the same fantasy vein, collected under the bland title Early Romances. His early poetry is also outstanding, the beginnings of pre-Raphaelite poerty.

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    1. I actually already have Early Romances - bought it quite recently, actually - an old J. M. Dent (I can never resist those). I'll make sure to read it first, thanks for that hint!

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