Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Sanitising William Morris

On a recent trip down to the Cotswolds to meet my Canadian friend Craig Dowler, I picked up a leaflet for ‘Kelmscott Manor: The Inspirational Cotswolds Retreat of William Morris’ in the pub where we had arranged to have lunch.  This leaflet has a splendid photo of the porch and gables of the building on its front cover, pretty much the same view in fact as serves for C.M. Gere’s design for the engraved frontispiece to the 1893 Kelmscott edition of News from Nowhere.  But of Morris’s socialism, you will not find a trace in this document; it has all been edited out.

We read that ‘William Morris – writer, designer and craftsman – first saw it [the Manor] in 1871’.  Well, I suppose it’s technically correct to leave ‘socialist’ out of that list of Morris’s activities, since he did not commit himself to the revolutionary cause until 1883.  But when the text continues: ‘It became his country retreat and inspired many of his designs and writings, influencing his thinking on environmental issues and building conservation’, then we clearly see a sanitising of Morris’s politics, a substitution of vaguely Green concerns for what were in his case also militantly Red ones.  Had that last sentence read ‘influencing his thinking on environmental issues and building conservation, and affording a major focus for his communist utopia News from Nowhere’, then we would have had the full actual range of Morris’s thinking and activity.