01 August 2014

C.S. Lewis Defends William Morris

In the April 18, 2014 edition of the Times Literary Supplement, Tom Shippey reviews an exciting new collection, Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews by C. S. Lewis (Cambridge UP, ed. Walter Hooper).

Hooper's collection contains one previously unpublished essay by Lewis, and forty book reviews which are reprinted here for the first time since their initial publication. Among these is an interesting review of Dorothy Hoare's The Works of Morris and Yeats in Relation to Early Saga Literature.

In the original review, Lewis leaves the Yeats portion of Hoare's work aside, and devotes the vast majority of his three columns of text to a robust defense of Morris. He understands that Hoare prefers the medieval texts to either Morris's or Yeats's interpretations of them, but he disagrees with her assessment of Morris.

“Of Mr. Yeats posterity will judge. Of Morris we can say only that Miss Hoare should read him again, with less submission to a narrow theory of literature. His real theme is very difficult to describe, but it is 'actual' enough. … From the whole atmosphere of each tale arises our awareness that something which has made the vast unnoticed background to much of our experience is at last being given expression...”

Reviewing the collection in April 2014, Shippey delights in the rather obscure barbed remark at the end of Lewis's review. Lewis ends with the simple comment that readers would perhaps be misled by Hoare's interpretation of “Morris’s ‘they tilted over a wain’ (for Ϸeir tjölduϷu vagu) as ‘a kind of leisurely wrestling’”.

After pointing out that the editor may have introduced a typographical error here—it's vagn not vagu—Shippey goes on to explain the remark. Both the Icelandic words and Morris’s more obscure translation mean “they put a tent up over the cart”. (p. 12). Hoare was far off the mark there, and so Lewis implies with a closing flourish, perhaps she had been far off the mark altogether.

-Clara Finley
 Vice President for Media: US Morris Society

05 July 2014

Call for Applications: Morris Society Fellowships 2015

(W.A. Spooner in Vanity Fair 1898 via this page)
The Joseph R. Dunlap Memorial Fellowship awarded by the William Morris Society in the United States supports scholarly and creative work about William Morris. The fellowship offers funding up to $1000 for research and other expenses, including travel to conferences and  libraries. Projects may deal with any subject biographical, literary, historical, social, artistic, political, typographical—relating to Morris. 

The Society also encourages translations of Morris's  works and the production of teaching materials (lesson plans and course materials) suitable for use at the elementary, secondary, college or adult education level. 

Applications are sought particularly from younger members of the Society and from those at the beginning of their careers. Recipients may be from any country and need not have an academic or institutional appointment, nor must recipients hold the Ph.D.

In some years the Society offers a second, smaller fellowship, the William Morris Society Award (the amount to be determined by the committee of judges) The purpose and aims of this second award are the same as for the Joseph R. Dunlap Fellowship.

Applicants should send a two-page description of their project, along with a c.v. and at least one letter of recommendation. For a translation project, please submit an additional letter from a recognized authority able to certify the applicant's competence in both languages. For teaching materials, we ask also for a cover letter describing the ways in which the materials might be used in learning situations. The Society would be pleased to publish any completed translation or teaching materials on its website, but this is not a requirement.

The deadline for applications is 15 December 2014. Applications are judged by committee, and 
the decision announced by 15 January 2015. Send applications to: 

Linda K. Hughes 
Department of English
TCU Box 297270
Texas Christian University
Fort Worth, TX 76129

Submissions, including supporting documents, should be sent via email (letters of 
recommendation should be emailed separately by the recommender). Although recipients are not 
required to be members of the William Morris Society, we encourage those applying to join and 
to share in the benefits of membership.

14 June 2014

How About a Morris Memorial Walk? A Modest Proposal

A Rainbow over Kelmscott Manor: photo by John Plotz

Back in 2011, I was lucky enough to spend ten days in and around Kelmscott, Oxfordshire. It couldn’t have been a better trip. When I wasn’t at the Manor itself, I visited the Great Tithe Barn at Coxwell, various churches that Morris worked on (Eaton Hastings ) or simply admired (St Mary’s in Castle Eaton), rowed (feebly) under the sweeping willows that Morris loved so much. On the last day I even saw a rainbow over Kelmscott Manor.

Although I’m not a macabre person, I was pleased to be there both on the anniversary of Morris’s death (October 3) and his burial three days later (October 6, 1896, a dark cold day). I’d been spending a lot of time at the gorgeous parish church of St. George’s, puzzling out the medieval wall paintings and admiring Webb’s memorable inverted-ship tombstone for William, Jane, Jenny and May Morris. So naturally I wonder what kind of commemoration to expect. Would it be Fabians, Guild Socialists, loyal Marxists? Or would his Arts and Crafts acolytes have set the tone? The answer was simple: none of the above.

It seemed wrong that so little should be done to mark a crucial moment in the Morris calendar at a crucial place, the “old house by the Thames to which the people of this story went.” So I had an idea, more or less the same one that John Paynes turned into his lovely book, Journey up the Thames.

Why not undertake the trip taken not only by Morris’s corpse after his death, but also by Guest, Clara and their companions in News from Nowhere? It seems a voyage that has as much to do with Morris’s life as with his death.

So, here’s my thought. Morrisites of all stripes should come together to follow the straightforward route marked out by the Thames Path and make a kind of Morris pilgrimage, arriving at Kelmscott Manor on October 6th. Although I realize that early October is an awful fit with the American academic calendar, I can at least attest to the mildness of the weather then. The ambitious could devote ten days to undertaking the 150 miles from London, while the more modest could (like me, on an unexpectedly balmy weekend) hoof just the final 50 miles from Oxford. Although the train no longer comes within a couple of miles of Kelmscott as it did in Morris’s day, boating wouldn’t out of the question. And anybody who elected to arrive by car would at the very least meet up with the party at Morris’s tomb on October 6th.

I admit the scene won’t be as tumultuous as that October day in 1934 when Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald missed George Bernard Shaw’s speech, and the dedication of Morris Memorial Hall on account of the crowds that flooded into Kelmscott. Still, is any one else as charmed as I am by the prospect of a walking, talking, disputating crowd of Morrisites, making their way argumentatively and amicably up the Thames?    

--John Plotz, Professor of English at Brandeis University

31 March 2014

William Morris’s Legacy in the 20th-Century Avant Garde

Lorine Niedecker, via the Poetry Foundation
Listening to a recent talk on ecology and contemporary poetry given by Professor Margaret Ronda, I was struck by how closely the aesthetic and political concerns of Objectivist poet Lorine Niedecker mirror those of William Morris, who was writing 75-100 years earlier. Niedecker’s work evinces a discomfort with the new, with aesthetic and literary emphases on innovation, and connects such neophilia with an unsustainable capitalist ideology of disposability and overproduction. This same anxiety about the connection between capitalist production and an aesthetic preference for innovation is apparent in Morris’s work, as I mentioned to Ronda after her talk. Imagine my surprise when Ronda told me that Niedecker was deeply interested in Morris and had in fact written a poem about him, titled “His Carpets Flowered.”

The poem, reprinted below, was written in the late ‘60s, and it suggests that Niedecker was primarily inspired not by Morris’s poetry, nor by his work in arts and crafts, but by his letters, and more specifically, by Morris the man as expressed in his letters. As Niedecker wrote in a 1969 letter to fellow poet Cid Corman: “I'm absorbed in writing poems--sequence--on William Morris. I know how to evaluate--Ruskin, etc., their kind of socialism--paternalism--but the letters of William Morris have thrown me. Title will be His Carpets Flowered. I can't read his poems. I'd probably weary of all those flowery designs in carpets, wall papers, chintzes...but as a man, as a poet speaking to his daughters and wife--o lovely” (455).

28 March 2014

The Teaching Morris Initiative

The William Morris Society in the United States is pleased to announce its new "Teaching Morris" initiative.

As part of this effort, the governing body of the WMS has approved the creation of a "Teaching Morris" advisory board. The advisory board will consist of five members, with no more than two from the governing board.

Governing board members Jane Carlin and Jason Martinek are spearheading this effort. We're looking not only to provide a clearinghouse for teaching materials already available about William Morris and his circle, but also to encourage the preparation of new materials. Our goal is to have resources for K-12 teachers as well as college and university professors. We also want to find a conference venue to share and showcase innovative approaches to teaching Morris that will engage and help foster a new generation of Morris scholars.

We are looking for nominations for the advisory board. If you are interested in self-nominating please email Jason at jmartinek@njcu.edu or Jane at jcarlin@pugetsound.edu. As part of the self-nomination please include a short paragraph introducing yourself and another expressing an idea or two about promoting Morris's life and legacy. We'd like to form the advisory board by the end of April. Please get your self-nominations in by 20 April 2014.

Feel free to contact Jason or Jane with your questions.

08 March 2014

MLA 2014: Morris and Arts and Crafts in the Midwest

St. Margaret: One of two Edward Burne-Jones windows in the Second Presbyterian Church.
(Photo courtesy of Yooperann on Flickr.)

 Chicago was cold and wet, with snow and slush everywhere. Instead of sidewalks there were slidewalks. Was it the plan of the MLA convention organizers to pick a location that kept people indoors? If it was, it didn't work for the tried and true members of the William Morris Society. Wherever there is Morrisiana in an MLA city, you are sure to find a group willing to brave treacherous conditions to bask in the glory of arts-and-crafts architecture, design, and stained-glass. I was proud to count myself among them, slipping and sliding all the way.

08 February 2014

Morris and 20th Century Vienna

Before 2013 is a distant memory, I want to rescue an item from the 22 February 2013 issue of the  Times Literary Supplement(pp. 7-8) that made interesting mention of Morris. The article in question might have been passed over by many Morrisians, for it was Edward Timms's review of Wer Einmal War: Das jüdische Grossbürgertum Wiens 1800-1938 by Georg Gaugusch, a fascinating reference work on the affluent Jewish families of Vienna prior to World War II. Timms points out that whereas clubs were the crucial meeting place for nineteenth-century intellectuals and influential writers in London, the meetings of artists and intellectuals took place in Vienna in the more egalitarian environment of coffee houses. And he adds the following:

It was around those coffeehouse tables that the two most successful artistic enterprises of turn-of-the-century Vienna were created. Early in 1903, the architect Josef Hoffmann was sitting with the designer Koloman Moser in the Cafe Hermannshof opposite the Opera, discussing the creation of applied arts workshops similar to those of the English Arts and Crafts movement. There they were joined by Felix Wärndorfer, a Jewish businessman with a passion for the work of William Morris. When he heard about their project he reportedly slapped 500 kronen down on the table - and the Wiener Werkstätte was born. It proved so successful that in its heyday it had retail outlets in Berlin and New York, as well as Vienna” (p. 8).

So as we begin 2014, we can think appreciatively of Morris’s connection to Jewish Vienna at the beginning of the twentieth century, of his global reach, and of Morris’s essential role in the founding of the  Wiener Werkstätte, which in manufacturing furniture, household items, jewellery and so on represented a twentieth-century afterlife of Morris and Co.

—Linda K. Hughes

(Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons)