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A dream, rather than a vision,
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This review is from: News from Nowhere, or, an Epoch of Rest : being some chapters from a utopian romance (Kindle Edition)
Well over a century since he wrote `News From Nowhere', William Morris' optimistic conclusion to his Utopian romance rings very hollow. The class divisions of his late Victorian society have now been projected onto the world stage, and Britain's mid-20th Century experiment with a mixed economy has been rolled back by successive governments since 1979.
Yet certain features of Morris' post-Revolution Britain have become reality. People live longer, reaching the century achieved by some of his characters; as a result of the NHS and better nutrition, the standard of health of the people has improved; the drab clothes of our Victorian ancestors have given way to more colourful outfits not too far away from those depicted in Morris' romance. And the environmental awareness of the last thirty years is cleaning up the worst of the pollution: salmon can once again be caught in the Thames.
Despite current concerns about terrorism, unemployment and public debt, we live in a society that makes progress, however uncertainly at times, as scientific discoveries help to improve the quality of life. The problem with Morris' anarchist Utopia is that it is a static paradise, with no new discoveries, no challenges, no innovations, and a general lack of interest in education, where people observe the beauties of nature rather than read books. To some extent, we are not too far away from H G Wells' world of the Eloi, though fortunately lacking the predatory Morlocks, but like that world it lives for the present, caught in a seemingly endless summer.
It has reverted not so much to medieval times - and some have remarked - but to a Britain on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, essentially rural, but without a squirearchy and landed gentry. Goods are moved by canal (no railways), and the harvest has become the main focus of the calendar, bringing folk together in co-operative work groups. Significantly the other main economic activity is the making of handcrafts, a William Morris Arts and Crafts movement written large across the landscape, in which independent craftsmen take pride in what they are doing.
It is, in effect, to reverse Morris' concluding words, a dream, rather than a vision of a future Britain.
I have re-read Morris after receiving a copy of Richard Llewellyn's update of his novel, and as several reviewers have commented, it is useful to set this against the many dystopias that have been written since. Arguably, in an `age of uncertainty' credible dystopias are easier to write - maybe because of human imperfection really convincing utopias have proved to be elusive. David Price has done a good job transcribing this text for a free Kindle edition, with the very minimum of typos. My assessment is based on this presentation.