William Morris is best known for his involvement in the Pre-Raphaelite movement and as one of the greatest European pattern-designers since the Middle Ages. He was also a campaigning socialist, a pioneering environmentalist, and a lyric poet, as well as a journalist and a storyteller with a penchant for making his dreams reality. Much of his prose writings focused on the theme of an earthly paradise, which is the subject of "News from Nowhere." First published in serial form in the "Commonweal" in 1890, this novella offers Morris' ideal future for England as a pastoral society born out of revolution. A true utopian vision of the future, it is largely forgotten in comparison to the dramatic dystopian works such as "Brave New World" and "Nineteen Eighty-Four," which have dominated the interest of scholars and students.
"News from Nowhere, or, An Epoch of Rest: being some chapters from a Utopian Romance" tells the story of a young Englishman who goes to bed one night in his London home and wakes up in a strange world where his "neighbors" talk about the year 2001 as thought it had happened in the past. Morris depicts an England where radical changes have altered not only the way things look but the key elements of the society, which is now structured according to the ideals of communism. This means a world without money or private property but with a perfect equality between all citizens who share in the daily labor.
In addition to these common features of a utopian society, Morris argues that labor would be regarded as a pleasure rather than as a chore. This is possible because in the ideal world Morris envisions every citizen does the job that matches their skills and is able to take pride in the fruit of their labors. Consequently, for Morris "work" is more akin to "art," specifically in terms of the Medieval idea of individual workmanship, where even the production of a dish was celebrated as an art form. Towards this end Morris creates a future where humanity has eliminated all but the simplest forms of machinery, forcing a reliance on the individual skins of the workman. Even the city of London becomes a collection of villages in this post-industrial utopia.
At one point an old man who had studied the revolution explains what happened, which is where "News from Nowhere" gives Morris the opportunity to comment on the injustices he perceives in his own society. The revolution came when the conflict between workers and the state became violent. Unions had banded together in larger organizations and when the establishment ordered unarmed protesters to be gunned down and the workers decided to fight back. In many ways the story Morris tells through his character clearly predicts some of the conflicts that would take place between labor and the state around the world in the decades to come, but there is also a strong affinity with the story of the French Revolution.
Ultimately, "News from Nowhere" is a combination of Morris' ideal of the Medieval workman as a happy artisan and his socialist beliefs. The irony for utopian scholarship is that while Morris was prompted by "Looking Backward" to write "News from Nowhere" as a refutation of Bellamy's reliance on the modern institutions of technology and complex organizations, but today the two works are seen as being kindred spirits because they both predict a brighter future for humanity. Still, it is became Morris is looking backward from the end of the 19th century to the past to find the ideal state that should be achieved in the future, that "News From Nowhere" is one of the most atypical examples of utopian literature.