William Morris and the Middle Ages : two socialist dream-visions

Cowan, Yuri Allen (2000) William Morris and the Middle Ages : two socialist dream-visions. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

William Morris was well versed in the history, literature, and material culture of the European Middle Ages, and of the fourteenth century in particular; his medievalism, however, was not purely nostalgic. In marked contrast to the prescriptions of other Victorian medievalist reformers, Morris never sought to bring back the social order of feudal England, but to build upon the organic traditions of a popular art and of mutual aid which he felt the art and certain democratic institutions of the Middle Ages embodied. His medievalism and socialism, far from being incongruous, were inseparable. -- It was therefore only natural that Morris seized upon such medieval forms as the poetic dream-vision for his socialist propaganda. His two most important works for the socialist journal Commonweal, A Dream of John Ball and News From Nowhere, show not only a marked prevalence of medieval and medievally-inspired forms of art and architecture, but are themselves an adaptation (rather than an imitation) of a fourteenth-century literary form. Moreover, it can be shown by reference to a selection of dream-poems, chief among them the poetic visions of Chaucer and the anonymous Pearl, that the literary form Morris chose was itself not dogmatic or prescriptive. In keeping with the nature of allegory, the dream-vision requires an act of interpretation on the part of the reader that is analogous to the act of interpreting real dreams. Morris adopted the dream-vision's evocation of an (earthly) real and a (heavenly) ideal in his utopian socialism and in his art. His medievalism was an attempt to evoke both the best of the past and the possibilities of the future; his dream-visions point toward an ideal society while acknowledging the real everyday necessities of life, work, and individual expression.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5456
Item ID: 5456
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 107-116.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2000
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Morris, William, 1834-1896--Criticism and interpretation; Visions in literature; Dreams in literature; Medievalism in literature; English literature--Middle English, 1100-1500--History and criticism

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