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William Morris: A Life for Our Time by Fiona…

William Morris: A Life for Our Time

by Fiona MacCarthy

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I really enjjoyed this tome of a biography about an extraordinary polymath, as relevant today as he ever was I would suggest. I really felt I was standing behind him as I followed him through his life. A solid, not especially confident man in many respects, not unaware of his talents, but neither egotistical about them.

He was an artisan-worker. A Socialist who knew the limitations of his dreams in many ways. We still can't achieve the level of equity in our society now, let alone back then. The gaps between the haves and have-nots is getting bigger, even if there are more have-somethings than there was.

Reading this has certainly made me want to read more of his work, and I purchased a 5 volume set of 'The Earthly Paradise' and a volume of his other poetry and prose, and borrowed a novel from the library, so I will be wandering in Morris way some more this year. ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Jul 4, 2013 |
An accomplished and original designer of textiles and furniture, books and typefaces, a socialist activist, poet and novelist (News from Nowhere), Morris (1834- 1896) had a "magpie mind" that sought expression in any number of media. MacCarthy (Eric Gill, a prize-winning biography of the sculptor), illuminates the paradoxes that shaped Morris's "painfully heroic progress through life." Morris was a manufacturer of lush housewares who rejected his father as a "capitalist villain"; an astringent critic of Victorian England who nearly became its poet laureate; a man both worldly and naive, stymied by his wife's affair with the charismatic Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Morris emerges in vivid snapshots as vital, protean and compassionate. This is the biography of a temperament, of a burgeoning reaction against late Victorian bourgeois complacency, that Morris shared with his friend painter Edward Burne-Jones, Rossetti, George Bernard Shaw and others. It also is shaped by interesting extended discussions of the period's architecture, politics and literature that sometimes distract from the account of the life they purportedly illuminate.

"When William Morris was dying one of his physicians diagnosed his disease as 'simply being William Morris and having done more than most ten men."' This was in part true of the driven man who was a poet, translator, publisher, businessman and retailer, medievalist, weaver, textile designer, political activist, early environmentalist, father of British Socialism, and guiding force behind the Arts and Crafts movement. With his complex versatility, Morris was an enigma to his Victorian contemporaries. Though there have been numerous works on different aspects of Morris's work, MacCarthy tackles the massive job of the complete story. Her five years of research show in her full and vivid understanding of the artist, the man, his friends, relatives, and era.
1 vote antimuzak | Dec 27, 2007 |
Great bio of a figure vital in understanding 20th century art / literature or politics. ( )
  withnail67 | May 11, 2006 |
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William Morris was an extraordinary figure, so manifold in his ambitions and talents, so outsize in his personality, that no single biographer has yet come to grips with his entire life, works, and character. As a wonderfully talented designer and artistic entrepreneur, Morris created a style that still lives; as a contradictory political figure - at once a radical and a traditionalist - he was a founding father of British Socialism in the era of Marx and Engels; as a poet and storyteller, he attained a huge contemporary reputation, producing several best-sellers; and as the husband of the Pre-Raphaelite icon Jane Morris (whose love affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti caused a stir and led to many famous paintings), he was the subject of personal torments as profound as his creative ones. In this biography, Fiona MacCarthy brings all the strands together, from the dreamy boy in a London suburb spinning medieval fantasies to the great bearded patriarch dividing his time between the design and production of beautiful fabrics, the translation of Icelandic epics, and the promotion of Socialism on street corners. Her understanding of his work as an artist-craftsman is profound, yet she is equally illuminating about the strange mixture of nostalgia and yearning for change that shaped his politics. At the same time, she is prepared to deal frankly and in detail with his often painful personal life.… (more)

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