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The Last Romances of William Morris


Phillippa Bennett

William Morris’s last romances are strikingly original stories written in his final years, but they remain relatively neglected in both Morris studies and nineteenth-century literary studies. This book provides a full-length critical account of these works and their essential role in promoting the continuing importance of Morris’s ideas.
Approaching these romances through the concept of wonder, this book provides a new way of understanding their relevance to his writings on art and architecture, nature and the environment, and politics and Socialism. It establishes the integral connection between the romances and Morris’s diverse cultural, social and political interests and activities, suggesting ways in which we might understand these tales as a culmination of Morris’s thought and practice. Through a comprehensive analysis of these remarkable narratives, this book makes a significant contribution to both work on William Morris and to nineteenth-century studies more generally.
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Chapter 1: The Embodiment of Wonder


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The Embodiment of Wonder

As he spake, he drew himself up, and his brows were knit a little, but his eyes sparkled from under them, and his cheeks were bright and rosy. He half drew the sword from the scabbard, and sent it back again rattling, so that the sound of it went about the hall; he upreared his head and looked around him on this and that one of the warriors of the aliens, and he sniffed the air into his nostrils as he stood alone amongst them, and set his foot down hard on the floor of the King’s hall, and his armour rattled upon him.

In Morris’s last romances wonder begins with the body. These stories consistently celebrate the human form as both the object and the agent of wonder, a dual function demonstrated dramatically in the figure of Ralph addressing the King and his men at Cheaping Knowe in The Well at the World’s End. Having drunk of the life-enhancing waters of the Well, Ralph represents humanity at its most vital and dynamic: the bright cheeks and sparkling eyes indicate a man in the primacy of health whilst the gesture of the half-drawn sword is a consciously symbolic performance, both suggesting and, for now, restraining a potent physical force. At this moment of crisis, Ralph’s purposeful eye contact and audible intake of air enact a deliberate sensory assessment of a threatening situation whilst the stamping of...

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