News From Nowhere

July 15, 2007 at 9:25 am 2 comments

Okay, time to catch up on the books I’ve been reading while my life has been in chaos. There’s always time for reading. In the end, News From Nowhere (1890) by William Morris is really quite enchanting. It’s utopian fiction, which I assumed predestined it to be fairly boring. Bad news is more exciting than good news, after all, especially where fiction is concerned. And there are boring passages, and places where it drags. But its vision of a future England as a heightened, perfected, communist style Fourteenth Century is actually very charming. Of course Morris is best known for his designs and soft furnishings, and there is plenty of emphasis in this novel on the value of handcraft and beauty. In this world, there is a surplus of wealth and time, so ordinary items like pipes can be intricately carved and encrusted with jewels, and then given away to whoever wants them. But there are sources of tension and plot-development, after all.

Firstly, there is the strangeness of this wonderful land, and the difficulty the narrator has in fitting in – he tries to pay for things, for example. And then there is the question of how the revolution took place, how England was able to regain its picturesque past. And finally, there is the fear that dogs the narrator that he will not be able to stay there, that the beautiful world will fade away, becoming no more than a dream.

I’ve been thinking lately about portrayals of the Middle Ages as childlike, and actually this is one of them. The characters of this neo-fourteenth-century utopian England have a childlike simplicity and delight in the natural world which the nineteenth-century narrator finds strange. The children are not locked in schools or any systems of formal education, but are allowed to develop naturally, according to their interests and curiosity. And the narrator is astonished to find a grand eating hall decorated by depictions of scenes from fairytales:

I smiled, and said: ‘Well, I scarcely expected to find record of the Seven Swans and the King of the Golden Mountain and Faithful Henry, and such curious pleasant imaginations as Jacob Grimm got together from the childhood of the world, barely lingering even in his time: I should have thought you would have forgotten such childishness by this time.’

The old man smiled, and said nothing; but Dick turned rather red, and broke out:

‘What do you mean, guest? I think them very beautiful, I mean not only the pictures, but the stories; and when we were children we used to imagine them going on in every wood-end, by the bight of every stream: every house in the fields was the Fairyland King’s house to us…’ (p. 130)

Later, the old man describes this new epoch as ‘the second childhood of the world’ (p. 162). It’s worth noting that in Morris’s vision, Leeds and Manchester have completely disappeared – no place for dark Satanic mills here!

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Entry filed under: medieval, William Morris.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. MyUtopia  |  July 16, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    I love Uptopian and Dystopian fiction. I will have to check this out.

  • 2. Eva  |  July 19, 2007 at 5:09 am

    oohhh-I love fairy tales. 🙂 I’m glad that you didn’t fall in love with Harry Potter either-especially after reading Pullman. I *adore* him. Did you know they’re making a movie of the Golden Compass? Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman are playing Lyra’s parents. I doubt I’ll go see it-I’d rather have my personal intepretation in my head, than the movie version. The website’s pretty fun, though-you can get a daemon!

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