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Wonderlands

The Last Romances of William Morris

Series:

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 4: The Politics of Wonder

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← 134 | 135 → CHAPTER 4

The Politics of Wonder

Morris understood that our sense of wonder at each other and at the world in which we live is suppressed and dissipated in conditions of social exploitation and environmental degradation – that when the interests of profit and utility dominate, the opportunities for wonder decline. Hence if people, landscapes and buildings were to inspire awe and reverence, and generate appreciation and respect, Morris knew that the whole basis of social and economic relations in the late nineteenth century would have to be transformed. His calls for a revitalized humanity, a regenerated natural environment and a reinvigorated architecture were thus all essentially the same call – the call for a rejection of capitalism and a radical rethinking and restructuring of society along Socialist principles. But Morris also recognized that the key to achieving this reconstruction of society, and thereby to reclaiming wonder, was to be found in the experience of wonder itself – and more specifically in the act of wondering.

The act of wondering engenders what John Goode calls a ‘revolutionary consciousness’, and the awakening of such a consciousness is enacted repeatedly in Morris’s last romances which share the literary territory of the Bildungsroman in their exploration of ‘youth growing up and coming of age’.1 It is a consciousness demonstrated by his protagonists’ willingness to wonder about their own circumstances and explore their own possibilities, initially through acts of rebellion and departure. Birdalone’s escape from ← 135 | 136 → Evilshaw, Walter’s...

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