"A Guest in the Future: News from Nowhere."
by Norman Talbot
Norman Talbot, "A Guest in the Future: News from Nowhere." Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris, eds. Florence S. Boos and Carole G. Silver. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1990. 38–60.
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William Morris was the first great English man of letters to declare himself a Communist, and to devote his extraordinary talents to changing the hearts and minds of his countrymen in preparation for the revolution. This study of News from Nowhere, while acknowledging the book's honorable membership in the category of utopian fiction, is concerned with another and profounder aspect of its achievement, its use of the narrator-protagonist.
But, says he, I think it would be better if I told them [the adventures] in the first person, as if it were I myself who had gone through them; which, indeed, will be the easier and the more natural to me since I understand the feelings and desires of the comrade of whom I am telling better than anyone else in the world does. (p. 5)
Our world of division, disappointment and spiritual discontent (not unmixed with guilt) is left behind for an unpretentious dream whose motive power is a prayer: "If I could but see a day of it; if I could but see it!" (p. 2). Like many a dreamer, our narrator is partly objective about what he sees and seeks to understand, but his subjective responses are so convincing, so literally lifelike, that they actually increase the believability of the dream. The most convincing aspect of the encoded reader's induced ad hominem logic is the knowledge that this Nowhere is precisely what the dreamer needs. That is, it is the wish-fulfillment we immediately suspected when the frame-narrator who says "says a friend" disappears.
Nothing much is going on in Nowhere. As in our world, if Guest had begun by ordering Dick to "take me to your leader" there could have been no response. He has arrived at the easiest, most idyllic time of the year, in a luxuriously fine June at the hay harvest, so that he can contribute nothing obvious to the world that he enters. There are no great people and events. Nobody needs him-as far as they know.
He needs them, of course. The human dimension, the individual as measure, is the only way of testing a society; indeed, it defines society. After the withering away of the state, social authority and personal freedom are no longer antithetical but synthesized. Guest wants to know, intellectually, how this synthesis came about, since most people where he came from couldn't believe in its inevitability. Even Guest can't do so, which is why he needs the epoch of rest this new "reality" offers. And that is why that "reality" is so convincing to us.
Nowhere's first delight is physical and sensory, but the physique and senses are those of Morris. They tell him that this is a utopia thoroughly worth living in. His incomprehension of the waterman not only enables us to laugh a little but also tells us that this world will be difficult to contribute to. Guest needs this epoch, not as an earnest of personal rewards but because he claims to be angrier, more frustrated, even more discouraged than fellow Leaguers, and therefore temperamentally more vulnerable than his reader. When he returns to being William Morris, refreshed and wholehearted, he refreshes and enheartens his reader.
If the greatest poverty is not to live in the physical world, as Stevens says, Morris is the wealthiest man in history. He offers the phenomena of being alive with clarity, simplicity, and directness; authenticity is guaranteed by humor and sensory alertness. The book is designed to enliven the reader's awareness of the world we already have, as well as the one it might become.
The emotions are not skilled workers, however, so intensity is a mixed blessing. In Nowhere one form of competition still degenerates into conflict: sexual desire can ravage even paradise. In other respects human fellowship is supreme: commodities are made when someone wants to make them or needs them, and external nature and social imagination can be identified one with the other. But sex is neither a commodity nor merely an objective natural fact. Apart from this, alienation is rare, and few things can obstruct the joy of being alive, the satisfaction of contributing oneself to the folk. Even the occasional naysayer, who mistrusts everything the rest like, is free to do so and can even be a stimulating element. Ellen's grandfather, for example, is one reason why she (unlike most of those around her) realizes that the world's and humanity's beauty may stand in need of defense.
The epoch of rest grew out of bad times, culminating in a very bloody revolution and a difficult period of physical and social remaking. Times and challenges just as grievous may be ahead-though no one seriously expects them. In any case, sufficient unto the day is the good thereof; the folk take no thought for the morrow except to plan the next festival and anticipate the next winter. Neither beauty nor work is taken for granted; the former is the object of a thousand endeavors, conspicuous or humble, while the latter is savored and saved up. The lifestyle of Nowhere, and those who live it, are a dream come true.
Well, of course they are a dream come true. Those are the only terms in which we could accept them. We are encouraged to accept not only specific Morrisian wish-fulfillments but also the Morrisian locations where they become evident. We read News knowingly, as Morris's book, and every detail is potentially ironic.
The term is meant literally; we are offered two recognitions at once: "how beautiful and sensible" is immediately joined by "how exactly right for poor old Morris!" The reader becomes a co-conspirator with Nowhere, anticipating how it will next ratify and clarify the narrator's wildest dreams. As soon as the winter of his discontent is invaded by a feeling of simple pleasure, we can predict that winter will be transformed into glorious summer. What the narrator believes in principle unfolds before him in fact, to his astonishment; we are a jump ahead, less astonished, and able to nod patronizingly." Obvious wish-fulfillment," we mutter, just as we are meant to. Behind the stalking-horse of his lovably unthreatening personality, Morris controls our every response.
We know, then, who Guest really is, where he lives (we've probably attended a meeting in the old coachhouse) and what he believes in. Nothing he hopes for will surprise us. Every correlation delights and privileges us; perhaps especially, as among those commemorated, we are touched to see the plaque in the Guest house (which part of our mind accepts as Morris's Kelmscott House, so that Guest-Hall equals Morris-Hall): "Guests and neighbours, on the site of this Guest-Hall once stood the lecture-room of the Hammersmith Socialists. Drink a glass to the memory! May 1962." 
The frisson of the autobiographical utopia is there, but it has become the reader's frisson. Where we expect to see Morris's name we see our own. All Guest's supposed "wandering," quite unlike that of any other utopian viewpoint character, is as locatively perfect and inevitable as this; his journey must follow his longing, and the reader recognizes every step. Guest determinedly collects "objective" history, but we instantly correlate it with his personal history. The enduring vitality of the book is not in its ideas alone but in the structuring self that lives them and is identified with them. Instead of a stock wandering enquirer we have a dreamer fulfilled, exploring with delight all that fulfills him. . . . And losing it.
The poignancy of the love affair with Ellen, so unlike the sentimental "love interest" in predecessors like Looking Backward, A Crystal Age and Erewhon, leads us to the final pages in which the frame-tale rather than the dream is fulfilled, and the dreamer is emptied of narrative hope. The law of the conservation of fictional energy, it seems, is that whatever wishes you have put into your fantasy must be taken out at the end. Indeed, to write a fantasy to escape self-knowledge is like taking an express train to escape from railway lines.
The meeting with the waterman is where Guest's consciousness enters Nowhere, as his body is rather briefly baptized in the new Thames. With vigorous directness that meeting drowns the assumptions of the class society to which Morris and his implied reader have become forcibly habituated. Guest seems to be a confused, illogical old eccentric to Dick and a trembling, half-adoring, half panic-stricken alien to himself. But what does he seem to us?
The subjects I recognised at once, and indeed was very particularly familiar with them. (pp. 13-14)
. . . the pale but pure-coloured figures painted on the plaster of the wall, with verses written underneath them which I knew somewhat over-well. (p. 141)
When the journey up the Thames begins, we know that Morris knows every reach of the river and we feel certain the destination must be either Oxford or his beloved Kelmscott. However, as with our other geographical expectations, we are inexact: what Guest recognizes is not the Thames that Morris knew, but what the Thames should have been. A Platonist might say the Thames is transformed into its true self. If the inward power of the narrative is derived from the sense of the narrator coming home to himself, we wonder, is some similar transformation about to work upon him?
At the narrative level, Guest knows Dick longest among the Nowherians, and undoubtedly learns from him. Dick's alliance of art, craft, and uninhibited muscle-stretching has already been mentioned, but his combination of instinctive tact and good temper with emotional vulnerability and the capacity for righteous indignation does much to prevent Nowherians from seeming either tedious or effete. Dick's furious disgust in reaction to the question about prisons is striking, but so, in a general context of summer luxury, is the strong emphasis upon his passion and his past emotional failure. His relationship with Clara has been stormy, full of misunderstanding and pain, sexual incompatibility and jealousy, though with Guest as catalyst it promises better days.
In parallel, and implying Dick's representative stature, a manslaughter has occurred near Reading, and the whole community is still recovering. Guest witnesses the effect Ellen has upon the males who meet her and learns that nothing can prevent the turmoils of romantic love and sexual longing, even when all economic and class-based obstacles are removed.
This aspect of Nowhere contrasts radiantly with the bland, etiolated love experienced in Looking Backward, where every family is of the upper-middle classes, knowing and speaking to nobody; in that world Edith can only offer a sickly, obsessive love, miraculously answered by Julian's entry from the past. In Morris's work, what Guest learns from Dick, as the admirably normative Nowherian, is a subtler matter.
Guest has entered a society of humans no longer alienated from the totality of that society, from their work, or from external nature. In spite of the long expositions by Old Hammond, these people may be in danger of alienation from their own history, and it is not clear from Dick's relationship with Clara whether individuals in Nowhere are much better at avoiding alienation from themselves and from individual lovers than the rest of us are. This submerged theme, of potential alienation even within an earthly paradise, contrasts in the Bloomsbury chapters with the historical ballast, and offers itself as an antithesis, intelligible through folk mythology.
"All work now is pleasurable: either because of the hope of gain in honour and wealth with which the work is done, which causes pleasurable excitement, even when the actual work is not pleasant; or else it has grown into a pleasurable habit, as is the case with what you may call mechanical work; and lastly (and most of our work is of this kind) because there is conscious sensuous pleasure in the work itself: it is done, that is, by artists." (p. 92)
The child, born in travail but now deeply enchanted by learning, work, and play alike, is part of the deep structure of News. Leading Guest to dinner in the Bloomsbury Market Hall, Clara takes his hand "as an affectionate child would" (p. 99), leaving her reconciled ex-husband and her dear counselor Hammond to follow "as they pleased." As so often in Morris, the body-language introduces the art-language. Guest looks at the murals in the hall: "I saw at a, glance that their subjects were taken from queer old-world myths and imaginations which in yesterday's world only about half a dozen people in the country knew anything about" (p. 100).
His surprise surprises his companions. Hammond says,
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 imaginings 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." (p. 100)
"Yes," she said: and it seemed to me as if a slight cloud came over her fair face. (pp. 100-101)
Morris does not insist upon any interpretation of the renewed bond between Clara and Dick, and we could not believe in any attempt by Guest to analyze it. Through the typical Nowherian blend of openness and reticence, we may perhaps detect that Clara is still wary, suspecting the lack of some edge, of some unchildlike complexity or tension that has not yet developed in their relationship. After dinner she returns to the subject of the pictures:
"Thou hast hit it, Dick," quoth old Hammond; "it is the child-like part of us that produces works of imagination. When we are children time passes so slow with us that we seem to have time for everything."
He sighed, and then smiled and said: "At least let us rejoice that we have got back our childhood again. I drink to the days that are!" (p. 102)
"Well, for my part," said Clara," I wish we were interesting enough to be written or painted about." (pp. 102-3)
After the awkward silence in which they contemplate the problem of being both happy and interesting, Dick courteously invites Guest to choose one of several ways to spend the evening, to be entertained. in context, Guest's reaction seems very adult, very alien:
Without consciously intending to, Dick has frightened Guest. But he has also begun to intuit Guest's nature; he adds later that meeting Guest has helped him to understand Dickens better. The most apt connection here is with Arthur Clennam, who dismisses himself as a spiritless "nobody," too old and used up to belong in the lover-world of the childlike (and childish) Pet Meagles. The protagonist's painful awareness of the age-gap and the ebbing of his vital forces is as important here as in Little Dorrit, and later this alienated protagonist also meets youth, love, and beauty by the Thames.
Hammond's sly reply to Dick is really an attempt at prophecy for Guest, so, as with other children listening to the subtleties of grown-ups, Dick does not understand it:
This chapter is rich with the illogical awarenesses that contrast most effectively with Hammond's lengthy and rationalistic historical exegesis. Clara, too, receives implications from the darkened hall and the darker history that has been evoked there. She senses that Guest is also Ghost, mainly because she has toyed with the idea that he might renew his youth by immersion in the childlike commonweal:
Hammond gently warns Clara to go on living in the present, but he cannot deny the aura that surrounds Guest. He asks, with some subtlety," Do you remember anything like that, Guest, in the country from which you come?" Guest understands him perfectly, as few commentators have, and replies," Yes, when I was a happy child on a sunny holiday, and had everything I could think of." It is Clara's specific feeling he is being asked about, not some general impression that utopia is nice; he recognizes her percipience, like Dick's more conceptual response, as partaking of the happy child's vague awareness of the vulnerability of its happiness. This echoes neatly the simpler child-response Guest had caught on smelling balm at Hammersmith, and foreshadows Ellen's acceptance of her vocation.
The Bloomsbury section of the story ends with another and even more specific prophecy in Hammond's reply:
Again I did not like his scarcely veiled threat, and was beginning to trouble myself with trying to remember how I had got amongst this curious people. (p. 136)
Guest delights in this world of strong, warm-hearted children, but the greater his commitment to them the subtler his self-consciousness becomes. At Hammersmith he loves the story-telling at night, "as if we had belonged to a time long passed, when books were scarce and the art of reading somewhat rare" (p. 140). His going to bed is a climax of contentment, set off against the inveterate shadow that must fall behind the joys of Morris:
Delightfully, as the journey up the Thames begins, Guest feels some measure of childhood response come back to him. This occurs first because of the clothes made for him: "I dressed speedily, in a suit of blue laid ready for me, so handsome that I quite blushed when I got into it, feeling as I did so that excited pleasure of anticipation of a holiday, which, well remembered as it was, I had not felt since I was a boy, newly come home for the summer holidays" (p. 141). His renewed delight is sharpened for us by his memory of how haymaking had looked in the nineteenth century, but as far as his conscious mind is concerned he merely longs to forget all that.
The rush of sexual responsiveness appropriate to summer hayfields is one reason for Guest's renewal. He has to remind himself that a woman as lovely as Annie is bound to have a lover of her own age, and he is fascinated by Clara's open pleasure in Dick's beautiful body. Thus it is partly sex that kindles his love of (and 'self-acceptance' amid) the summer greenery: "I almost felt my youth come back to me, as if I were on one of those water excursions I used to enjoy so much in those days when I was too happy to think that there could be much amiss anywhere" (p. 144).
Along the Thames, Arthur Clennam's response was one of humiliatingly muted desire, where Guest's is one of developing desire. The visit to Hampton Court reminds us of Little Dorrit, just as Boffin had reminded us of Our Mutual Friend, and both are very much Thames-side books-though not more so than News. But nothing in Dickens is so redolent of sexual consciousness and response as Guest's journey up the Thames. Even in his "three's-a-crowd" alertness Guest thoroughly enjoys this aspect, and is taught by Dick's unselfconsciousness and Clara's erotic awareness not to turn his emotions away from their sexual course, as the Victorian nineteenth century had tried to do:
Insensitive critics who expect prediction instead of prophecy, high-tech guesswork about solar batteries or fusion cells instead of the felt life of Guest's dream, never give any reason why Guest should dream about such things. Indeed, he has a deep-seated anxiety not to be told, which matches his underlying prejudice for low-level technology (mills and looms rather than power units), his emotional state, and his natural wariness, as a time traveler, about giving himself away.
"Yes, of course I understand." (p. 162)
Ellen is the most effective image of liberated womanhood in News, although she has not Clara's relish for the male as sex-object, nor any conscious drive for dominance. Mistress Philippa, of the Obstinate Refusers, has the necessities of art to force her to influence others, and we are free to imagine Ellen, inspired by her strange male muse, also becoming a woman of conscious power. If she feels that humanity is in danger of falling back out of Nowhere into bad old ways, this will give her a mission such as she has been seeking. It will also account for the intensity of her attraction to Guest, and for the physical world of midsummer England which others might perhaps be tempted to think invulnerable, as Hammond prefers to.
Dick and Clara, next morning, together reaccept the child-wonder of folk tale, this time without any forebodings from Clara, and they do it by watching Ellen:
Said Clara demurely, but not stiffly: "Is she a good fairy, Dick?" (p. 155)
Clara is naturally very conscious of Ellen's beauty, and has dressed like her as far as possible-a very naive way of coping with a potential rival. In the same way, though less consciously, Ellen puts on the intellectual dress of Guest in offering her grumbling grandfather her home-truths about life in the glamorous past. Guest is "much moved," and haunted by Ellen's wild beauty as the three travelers re-embark. Clara, too, remains aware of her influence, and is consequently very affectionate toward Dick. This relieves Guest (he assumes because of his fatherly attitude to the lovers). He reasons that Dick could not have welcomed such caresses if "at all entangled by the fairy." As the reader realizes, Guest is himself "entangled."
What Guest has experienced, and what gives him a "keen pang" on leaving Ellen, is not just beauty but a response to visionary power. Since his vision has brought him to her, it is a thrill to encounter in her an equivalent vision. She is drawn to the elderly, haggard stranger too, and makes him her muse. However, the reader is aware, consciously or unconsciously, that Guest is also the author, so the evocation of Ellen is of his muse, in a perfectly reciprocal irony that does not depreciate either term, or deny the erotic nature of their attraction.
Thus Ellen rows after Guest, determined to stay with him, anticipates and absorbs his ideas and perspectives, and at the same time attracts and inspires him. As in Shelley's allegory of the poet's imagination, "Alastor," Ellen's "voice was as the voice of his own soul,/ Heard in the calm of thought." But since the dream has created the dreamer's soul-mate, it cannot allow their total union, any more than Epipsychidion can allow the total mutual annihilation of the poet and Emily. Such a union would sentimentalize the dream-frame and trivialize the doubleness of the reader's response to Morris and Guest. In fact, it would also depreciate the air of hard-earned wisdom that balances the book's sweet-tempered delight.
As Guest comes closer to the fateful return to his own time (a necessary element in all utopias, or how could they be written?) and the inevitable loss of personal wholeness such as he feels in the love of Ellen, two processes reach their climax. The first is the joy itself, the delight that for once involves no guilty privilege; it entails both love and a reborn sense of being usable, the narrative expression of which is his being allowed to row and his teaching Ellen about the past and the Thames. The second is the personal division and alienation that adds poignancy and courage to that joy, and becomes yet another test of the man who had lain down to dream.
In fairness to the dream-aspect of News, it must be admitted that not only Ellen but all the significant characters have a resemblance to Guest and Morris, especially in their negative characteristics. For example, if Old Hammond is like Guest as an aged, eccentric and anomalous man, fascinated enough by the past he hates to be almost a living museum, he is distinct in his quietly benevolent support of Clara in her marital tangles, and in his total identification with the young society around him. To Hammond, but never to Guest, Nowhere is "we."
Dick resembles his great-great-great-grandfather in his gruff bewilderment about sex and women, his seeking for consolation for such troubles in good hard work, his glib no-nonsense attitude toward high art, and his devotion to community. He is dissimilar in his ability to forget himself, even as he takes a naive pride in his body and its purposes.
Ellen's grandfather, the old grumbler, is so deeply wrong in underestimating his own day as to revere the surviving art of a much inferior time. Yet what he loves Guest also appreciates, and might even accept as one of the best things to be said about a bad Empire. What the grumbler does not admit is that Nowherians who "like" their world can also appreciate Thackeray. Still, the grumbler is secretly happy, using his grumbling to tease and test the beautiful people around him.
Ellen has a special relationship to Guest. As muse, she is full of knowledge, passion, and wisdom, accepting a vocation to chasten and toughen a future that might otherwise forget the past. Her passion might be that of an isolated Cassandra, except that she is determined to inherit Hammond's function at a more affirmative level, striving always to express her love of the physical world. Among the benefits of a soul-bond with Guest is her eschewing of Hammond's temptation to praise Nowherians for being "too happy . . . to trouble ourselves about what's to come hereafter" (pp. 102-3). She is tender with the anomalous and cross-grained aspects of humanity rather than sponsoring conformity, because she knows there are seeds of wisdom even in the wrong-headed, and all are worth loving. She will link Guest's past to Nowhere's future, as the healer links illness with health in preventive medicine, striving to understand both. As pupil and lover, she is both protector and purpose for Guest.
Old Hammond and his great-grandson are clearly contrasting figures; while the latter finds the past puzzling, repulsive, and (after the Renaissance) eventually boring, the former is ratified by the fullness of his recognition of Guest's temporal aura, as it were. Still, despite the human interest of the Bloomsbury chapters, Hammond's historical account is the least dramatic part of News, and to confuse "news" with history, as readers concentrating on those chapters have done, is a serious error.
That is not to say that history does not matter, but instead that the book is written in the right order. It is from history that Ellen will learn to prevent a repetition of history: "Who knows? Happy as we are, times may alter; we may be bitten with some impulse towards change, and many things may seem too wonderful for us to resist, too exciting not to catch at, if we do not know they are but phases of what has been before; and withal ruinous, deceitful, and sordid" (p. 198).
Indeed, if Guest is her muse, he is the equivalent of Clio, not of Erato, and he is very conscious that, however arousing her beauty and however intimately they know themselves to be linked, she cannot regard him primarily as a sexual lover. As his imagination becomes keener and healthier, he introduces her to aspects of the Upper Thames without even needing to name them (so closely can he identify them with their ideal forms in his other role, as wish-fulfilling author). What more inspiring gift can a muse offer than one's own country?
They are both lovers of the place, as well as of each other. Ellen utilizes the ominous or deathlike elements in Guest and takes the brunt of those shadow-powers as they gather for his life's climacteric around his beloved Kelmscott manor and village. Her undirected prayer that she might but say or show how she loves "the earth and the growth of it and the life of it," is the author's too, and through him it is granted.
Again this is achieved by a double or ironic effect. Ellen is confirmed by meeting Guest to be a healer of spiritual blindness; she will teach her children, and those of all Nowhere, to become vigilant against all signs of law, organization and mechanism, the beginnings of anti-ecological brutalism or power- and profit-seeking exploitation, the first symptoms of cant, ambition, or progress. In this sense she becomes the inheritor and purpose of Guest's time in Nowhere.
Guest's loss has an opposite effect: he has left the hideous travesty of London and the Thames, and discovered the true London and Thames. He has been carried along the currents of history to hear of the best and worst of times, forward in time and back through mounting social, erotic, and natural delight, toward the source of himself. Yet at the climacteric, when he reaches the locus amoenus, the sacred central place from which he should be reborn, his own renewal cannot take place.
At the personal level, the wish-fulfillment's climax might have been in the bed at Kelmscott with Ellen. But even if it had to be purely social, it ought to have taken place at the tables of the folk, especially since they are in Kelmscott church. Both are forbidden. Guest was never more than a guest of the community of Nowhere, and suddenly the Tarnhelm that Dick had evoked descends upon him. He sees faces that have forgotten him, or for whom he never was. He becomes unstuck in time, in a "disaster long expected," encounters the travesty of a countryman who represents his own time, and a black cloud sweeps to meet him," like a nightmare of my childish days," which is precisely where the energy of the whole vision had come from. This reestablished dream-frame possesses both a fierce precision and a genuine plangency, as Guest is dismantled from the consciousness of his own creation, the children of his own longing. He even reads Ellen's last conscious glance toward him as explaining that "you cannot be of us ... our happiness even would weary you" (p. 210).
All utopias, not just ironically insulated ones like Lemuel Gulliver visited, must remain at a distance, always lost as soon as emotionally accepted, or how could they still be Nowhere? And Guest has, after all, contributed to the community that seemed to have everything. He has not only inspired his soul-maiden, Ellen, but also offered a temporal gift to much less sensitive spirits.
In that beautiful and poignant last chapter, he bathes for the second time in the Thames in the company of Dick, the quintessential Nowherian. Dick has guided the time-spirit without much apparent danger to his own serene world view, though we know his serenity is not unshakable. Now he introduces the final time-transaction with an amazing but convincing reflection. First, he comments that it is in autumn that one "almost believes in death"-and the reader may reflect that one definition of childhood is that time of life before one imaginatively accepts one's own mortality. Guest feels that Nowherians are "like children" about the phenomena of the seasons, sympathizing with their gains and losses (as if Ruskin had never isolated "the pathetic fallacy"!). Now he suggests that Dick should respond as keenly to winter and its trouble and pain as to the summer luxury now all about them. Dick replies that he does so, but as a worker within the seasons rather than a spectator merely appreciating them. Like other aspects of News, this chimes with a discussion in The Dispossessed, when Shevek admires the beauty of the long view of Urras but Takver says she would rather be fully involved in the phenomena of life, however messy and unglamorous. 
For the first time, Dick becomes introspective rather than merely thoughtful: "One thing seems strange to me . . . that I must needs trouble myself about the winter and its scantness, in the midst of summer abundance. If it hadn't happened to me before, I should have thought it was your doing, guest; that you had thrown a kind of evil charm over me" (p. 207). The charm has indeed been cast, though by Guest's presence rather than his will, and it is a most valuable rather than an evil one. Dick cannot dismiss now what he had previously pushed out of his mind, because he has had to put it into words. The inertia of a Golden Age such as that described by the Greeks is vulnerable to many corruptions, and time-consciousness gives resilience even to an epoch of rest.
When Guest returns to the world of William Morris, passing on to his contemporary and later readers something of his own longings and warm-hearted striving, he also leaves behind a better, tougher Nowhere. Human endeavor can improve even utopia.
Although News is influenced by several writers, like Jeffrey and Bellamy, who overtly discuss the future of humanity, Charles Dickens seems to be the major literary presence. Indeed, a socialist Dickens would have been Morris's ideal reading. Scrooge, the isolated old man upon whom A Christmas Carol focuses, probably inspired some of Morris's physical contrasts between alien and child-like community joys, for instance, as well as making a spectacular journey into the darkest of Victorian futures.
. "Agitprop," from the Russian agitatsiya and the Latin propaganda, is a dramatic style of social protest expressing Marxist values, especially characteristic of street theater.
. News from Nowhere, hereafter called News, was first published in the Socialist League's-which meant Morris's-periodical Commonweal, January-October 1890. Quotations are from The Collected Works of William Morris, ed. May Morris, 24 vols. (London: Longmans, 1910-1915), vol. 16; subsequent parenthetical in-text page references are to this edition.
. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (New York: Avon, 1974), 47.
. The Implied Reader is the title of a study by Wolfgang Iser (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974).
. Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, published in 1888, was read eagerly by many socialists, including many of Morris's friends. Although James Redmond (introduction to News from Nowhere [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970]) says Morris reviewed it "very unfavourably" in January 1889, the review actually appeared in Commonweal on 22 June 1889, p. 195. However, it was certainly unfavorable.
. P. 16. The plaque is already there, although Hammersmith has not yet become Nowhere.
. See the final section of this study. Engels expounds his view of human history in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, trans. Alec West (1884; reprint, New York: International Publishers, 1972), which borrows heavily from Lewis Morgan, Ancient Society (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1877).
. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 153-54.
. See note 5. For Morris, "heroic age" denoted the worlds of tales like the Iliad and Odyssey, the Volsungasaga, Beowulf and the Kalevala. Historically, the Goths who resisted Rome, and Bronze Age cultures all over Europe, merited the epithet.
. "Socialism from the Root Up" was first published in Commonweal in 1887 and [was] later presented in book form as Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1893). The meticulous discussion by Paul Meier in William Morris: The Marxist Dreamer, trans. Frederick Gubb, 2 vols. (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1978), emphasizes the originality and quality of Morris's perspective.
. Morris's first three major prose fictions are a preparation in this as in other ways for News, his fourth. In A Dream of John Ball he explores his limited kinship with fourteenth-century radicals, then in The House of the Wolfings (1889) and The Roots of the Mountains (1890) he tests the social worlds of earlier and later heroic age peoples. All three are, however, war-focused stories.
This text was scanned, OCRed, and proofread from the original source by Thomas J. Tobin. This document was created by the William Morris Society with the kind permission of the University of Missouri Press. For permission to use this document, in whole or in part, for any purpose except educational, please contact the University of Missouri Press.
Reprinted from Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris, edited by Florence S. Boos and Carole G. Silver, by permission of the University of Missouri Press. Copyright © 1990 by the Curators of the University of Missouri.
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