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Customer Review

TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 September 2012
Left-wing writers sometimes claim Morris as a socialist to sit alongside the likes of Keir Hardie, a pioneer of the British labour movement. Reading this, his personal Utopia, reveals how far his ideas were from those of his working class contemporaries. Morris's ideal world skates over many obvious problems, and assumes much in the way of perfectability in human nature. He isn't a particularly skilled writer of "fiction" (this is in no meaningful sense a novel) and, after starting with an appealling bang, the book gets bogged down and becomes rather heavy going as time passes. It isn't something most people would read for pure enjoyment, but it is important, if you wish to have an insight into Morris's place in late 19th century reform, to have read it.

Morris himself came from a privileged capitalist background - his father had made a fortune by wise (or lucky) investment - and his experience of the evils of industrialisation was that of an observer, not a victim. He had a highly romanticised sensibility and felt that, if his ideas could only be widely put into action, the world would become a paradise of fairness and beauty. His practical attempts, though today we cherish the results in the shape of the beautiful objects and designs created, had little impact on 19th century industrialism. His craftman-made objects were eye-wateringly expensive, accessible only to well-heeled idealists like himself. Meanwhile, the benefits of modern technology became available to ordinary people because of, not despite, the increased efficiency of factory production.

The astute reader will see that the way of doing things described in "News from Nowhere" could not, in practice, bring the benefits of science, research and modern medicine to an egalitarian citizenry in the way he hoped. Morris's world is essentially a cleaned up, better-educated medeival one. Though he campaigned tirelessly and helped raise awareness of the need for reform, it was not his way forward, in the end, which brought labouring people from out of the darkness into the light.

If you are interested in this Luddite approach, you'll probably also enjoy William Cobbett's much earlier Cottage Economy To Which Is Added The Poor Man's Friend. It doesn't have Morris's high-falutin' principles but is much funnier.
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