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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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Conclusion: The Presentation of Wonder

Extract

← 178 | 179 → CONCLUSION

The Presentation of Wonder

In The Story of the Glittering Plain Hallblithe watches the Princess turn the pages of her wondrous book, in which are ‘pictures of many things, as flaming mountains, and castles of war, and ships upon the sea, but chiefly of fair women, and queens, and warriors and kings; and it was done in gold and azure and cinnabar and minium’.1 It could indeed be one of Morris’s very own last romances. With its mountains, castles, fair women and warriors, it is potently suggestive of the life of questing adventure enjoyed by Morris’s final protagonists and its captivating pictorial narrative twice attracts the rapturous attention of Hallblithe as he recognizes his own destiny traced in its pages. But just as importantly, the thrills and delights of the book’s content are both reflected and enhanced by the nature of its material presentation: painted in rich and vibrant colours and ‘covered outside with gold and gems’ it is a book ‘most lovely to behold’.2 In printing his last romances at his own Kelmscott Press, Morris intended these books to be similarly ‘lovely to behold’, and it is a happy coincidence that The Story of the Glittering Plain was the very first title to be issued from the Press in 1891.3 In their Kelmscott Press editions, with their meticulously designed typography, handmade paper, vellum covers and coloured silk ties, Morris’s final narratives stand as a triumphant testimony to his idea of the book...

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