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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 3: The Architecture of Wonder


← 92 | 93 → CHAPTER 3

The Architecture of Wonder

The natural beauty of the earth celebrated by Morris in his letters, lectures and romances is valuable in its own right as an enduring source of wonder and pleasure for ‘such as choose to seek it’, but it is also of value because it inspires in men and women an instinctive desire ‘for making it more beautiful’ by means of their own creative endeavours.1 For Morris, a topography of wonder is the foundation of an architecture of wonder: ‘Those who are to make beautiful things must live in a beautiful place’, he emphasized, and in honour of these beautiful places the buildings people construct should be ‘ornaments to Nature, not disfigurements of it’.2 The City of the Five Crafts in The Water of the Wondrous Isles exemplifies this potential for a wondrous interaction between built and natural environments. Gerard’s description of the city engages both Birdalone and the reader in an imaginative enactment of the journey there in which the sense of expectation engendered by climbing the high land resolves into a vision of intense aesthetic delight:

Over that downland we may wend a four days, and then the land will swell up high, and from the end of that high land we shall behold below us a fair land of tillage, well watered and wooded, and much builded; and in the midst thereof a great city with walls and towers, and a great white castle...

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