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News from Nowhere by William Morris

News from Nowhere (1890)

by William Morris

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6121124,639 (3.51)45
'The only English utopia since More's that deserves to be remembered as literature.'News from Nowhere (1890) is the best-known prose work of William Morris. The novel describes the encounter between a visitor from the nineteenth century, William Guest, and a decentralized and humane socialist future. Set over a century after a revolutionary upheaval in 1952, these 'Chapters froma Utopian Romance' recount his journey across London and up the Thames to Kelmscott Manor, Morris's own country house in Oxfordshire. Drawing on the work of John Ruskin and Karl Marx, Morris's book is not only an evocative statement of his egalitarian convictions but also a distinctive contributionto the utopian tradition. Morris's rejection of state socialism and his ambition to transform the relationship between humankind and the natural world, giveNews from Nowhere a particular resonance for modern readers.The text is based on that of 1891, incorporating the extensive revisions made by Morris to the first edition.… (more)
Recently added byerikdavidkov, private library, RoboSchro, rtxz, hatingongodot, ejmw, ziggyreads, taldrich
Legacy LibrariesT. E. Lawrence, William Butler Yeats
  1. 00
    The Tables Turned: Or, Nupkins Awakened by William Morris (CGlanovsky)
  2. 01
    The Iron Heel by Jack London (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Morris's novel could almost read like the future utopia from which London's fictional annotations are written.
  3. 01
    Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A dystopian antithesis to Morris's utopia.

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
“Well,” said Hammond, “our villages are something like the best of such places, with the church or mote-house of the neighbours for their chief building. Only note that there are no tokens of poverty about them: no tumble-down picturesque; which, to tell you the truth, the artist usually availed himself of to veil his incapacity for drawing architecture.

An enjoyable utopian tale by William Morris in which the main character, who asks his hosts to call him Guest although he is obviously meant to be Morris himself, wakes in his own bed in Hammersmith only to find himself in a future world that seems to be based on the Arts and Crafts movement that was so important to Morris.

As usual with utopias this is a satire on modern (i.e. late-Victorian) society, but he gets in some more personal seeming digs about about artists, academics and Cambridge University (Oxford's "less interesting sister"). Once of the main features of the future society is that people enjoy making things and that the aesthetics of objects are equally as important as their function, as in the Arts and Crafts Movement. On the surface, it seems like a lovely place to live, but Morris does not touch on what would happen if you were disabled, got ill or had a difficult childbirth.

Guest's new friends take him on a trip up-river to see hte countryside and join in the hay harvest further up the Thames, which ends at what must be William Morris' other home, Kelmscott Manor. Eventually he ends up back in his own bed, but it ends on a hopeful note as rather than being miserable to be back, Guest is filled with hope for the future. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Mar 26, 2019 |
You couldn't move in the nineteenth century for the sequels, prequels, ripoffs, and rebuttals of Looking Backward. Wikipedia claims there were over 150, and I know of some that aren't on that list. Most of what I've read myself is terrible; Morris is one of the few writers to attempt to write one who came up with something halfway decent. Unfortunately, a halfway decent Victorian utopian tract is still a Victorian utopian tract; this is one of those books where some fellows walks around an ideal society being told how ideal it is. (Wells, of course, skewered the whole subgenre in The Sleeper Awakes.) Morris being Morris, everyone in the future loves arts and crafts. One thing I must praise him for, though, is his understanding that social change means revolution and revolution means violence; the narrator's guide says that of course it wasn't a peaceful transition to utopia because the world hadn't been peaceful before utopia: "what peace was there among those poor confused wretches of the nineteenth century? It was war from beginning to end: bitter war, till hope and pleasure put an end to it" (148-49). We're cushioned from the violence, though, because it's all told to us in a history lesson. No dead bodies on the page in this revolution!
  Stevil2001 | Dec 22, 2017 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 1996. Spoilers follow.

This book may very well have been on the Unabomber’s bookshelf. This communistic, arts and crafts tyranny would appeal to the anti-technological Unabomber with his hand crafted bombs. Communism is the explicitly stated philosophy at work here, and Morris was famous for his works on artistic aesthetics. Morris is resolutely anti-technological and explicitly and frequently evokes his beloved 14th century Europe as a model for living. He even dismisses their more reprehensible laws as at least being sincere unlike Victorian laws which, according to him, are repressive and hypocritically justified. To be fair to Morris, two of 14th Century Europe’s problems – plague and famine – were not yet really being alleviated by contemporary science – not that Morris really mentions them as problems of 14th century life.

This is not really, despite being frequently mentioned in sf histories, a sf novel. Essentially, it’s a dream vision (more echoes of Morris’ medievalism) of Morris’ utopia. As with all utopias, it has to be criticized on two levels: the literary merits and the merits of the ideas.

On the literary level, this is – given the constraints of the Utopian genre which usually precludes interesting conflicts – fairly well written. It’s witty in parts and includes an interesting and detailed explanation on how 19th century British society evolved into Morris’ utopia – “an epoch of rest” as the subtitle goes.

On the political level, this book is totally unconvincing. Morris makes the usual mistake of socialist/communist utopians in presuming that human nature is mutable according to political and social factors. Morris has a character sweep aside the narrator’s – the dreamer – question on human nature with “The human nature of pauper, of slaves, of slave-holders, or the human nature of wealthy freemen?” This is a tautology since such a version of human nature has to exist before Morris’ “wealthy freemen” can be created.) Not only does Morris make the usual stupid presumptions that man can live in a communist society, indeed an anarchic one here, and simply be persuaded to lead a good, moral life without even being punished when he strays (the culprit will feel bad and mend his ways we're told), but he compounds the problem by not only seeing man as capable of living in a communist world but also as inherently desiring to work and lead a creative life. I think humans (and there is plenty of evidence to back this up) are generally inherently lazy and uncreative. We value energy and creativity in part because of its rarity. To be sure, creativity is fairly widespread but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to be an artisan. (Bookishness is generally discouraged in this world though Morris admits some will still take to it.). Yet, Morris postulates such a utopia where people amuse themselves with farming practices and artisan work out of the Middle Ages. Morris, in his anti-industrial, anti-technological zeal (he snidely has one character remark that machines of production were the only true products of craftsmanship in the Industrial Age) ignores three things: first, that some people’s creativity is only applicable to things in a technological society; second, that those who dwelled in supposed rural bliss (Morris worships nature) flocked to the cities in the Industrial Revolution to make their lives better; third, that hand craftsmanship simply can not provide enough items for the good life he shows. Handcrafted items may be nice, but most people have chosen to opt – voluntarily – for a slight – but still satisfactory – reduction in quality for quantity of goods (I’m speaking of Morris’ goods: furniture, clothes, housewares).

Morris has created an arts and craft hell where man supposedly would be happy to live at a mediaeval level. No, not even mediaeval since his utopia is communistic. Morris also improbably has his utopians longer lived and more beautiful than us because of their pleasant world and work thus totally ignoring even contemporary medical science and sanitation (Of course, Morris doesn’t address Victorian improvements in life due to sanitation.) Morris also postulates the abolishment of legal marriage contracts.

I do have one area of agreement with Morris when he takes contemporary feminists to task for denigrating women who want to be mothers and serve their families. He rightly sees this as a good and natural desire of most women. ( )
  RandyStafford | Jun 2, 2013 |
The narrator falls asleep and wakes up a couple of hundred years into the future. What he discovers is a socialist utopia supposedly without money ("extinct commercial morality"), property, poverty, crime, among other things. The sickness of idleness, not wanting to work, has been cured, so everyone wants to contribute.

Too rose-red to ben taken seriously. Everyone is funnily polite, probably reflecting Morris' environment, and too many book-learned men is seen as not good. Occupations are mentioned as belonging to certain people. ( )
  ohernaes | May 20, 2013 |
Do not be too quick to dismiss Morris's speculation as woefully inaccurate. Yes, his "future" more resembles a mythical past than anything else, but to fault him too strongly for that misses the point. His object was less to prognosticate than to urge. Jules Verne's "Paris in the 20th Century" is an example of a 19th Century premonition of how 19th Century trends WOULD be extrapolated into the future; "News from Nowhere" deals in how those trends COULD be contravened. The shape this imagined utopia takes on in its superficial qualities (manners of dress, for instance) is entirely the result of Morris's evident aesthetic prejudices.

Morris was a driving force in the Pre-Raphaelite movement of English painters. Their cause was to reject what they saw as the stultifying forms and conventions common in art since the latter half of the Renaissance. As subject-matter, Morris and his fellows generally borrowed subject matter from Medieval history and legend. It's not surprising then that his utopia also dresses itself in those motifs.

Ultimately the substance of Morris's story lies elsewhere. Unlike Verne, he isn't trying to amaze with projected technological advancement. In fact Morris saw the proliferation of machinery as ugly and tending more to increase than lessen the burden of labor on the common man. So the scientific trappings of his future society are mostly hidden. At one point his protagonist sees a water craft propelled down the river by no discernible force, without a sail or a column of smoke to denote a steam engine; briefly wondering at the sight, the observer shrugs it off and continues instead to admire the natural beauty around him.

Morris's goal was to elucidate his vision for the future of our social institutions. He was an active Socialist who wished to establish a convincing alternative to versions of socialism that relied on an authoritarian state. He foresees a world where government occurs locally and democratically. He reasons that most criminal activity arises from class divisions and property disputes and that without these order and security will succeed naturally. With life's necessities shared equally, the requirement for compulsive, unpleasant work will be diminished and labor--imbued with artistic pride--will become a pleasure. ( )
2 vote CGlanovsky | Jan 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Morris, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arata, StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klett, ElizabethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Liebknecht, NatalieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Redmond, JamesEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steinitz, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Up at the League, says a friend, there had been one night a brisk conversational discussion, as to what would happen on the morrow of the Revolution, finally shading off into a vigorous statement by various friends of their views on the fully-developed new society.
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