Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in English






William Morris -- 1834-1896



Physical Description

1 online resource (4, 88 leaves)


This paper analyzes and evaluates William Morris’s esthetic for community. He presented this esthetic in lectures, letters, newspaper articles, and the dream novel of a happier future England, News from Nowhere. At the age of forty-three, after becoming an eminent poet and a well-known decorative design artist, he began to devote most of the last twenty years of his life to generating an interest in the better community. First, he worked with people of the upper and middle classes, then he turned his attention to the working men. I divide the analysis and evaluation of this work of William Morris into five sections. The first section names the man and places him in the period, the Victorian Age. Within the over-all context of the rapid industrial development of this period, I trace the four kinds of change that played significant roles in turning William Morris to a commitment for an esthetic for community—an art-centered society for all Englishmen. These areas are political reform, religious change, scientific development, and a turning to the Middle Ages. I then relate Morris to each area and note his responses. The second section presents Morris’s esthetic philosophy as he outlined it in his first lecture, The Lesser Arts,” and elaborated it in two later lectures, “The Prospects of Architecture” and “How We Live and How We Might Live.” The third section outlines Morris’s ever-changing proposals for putting his esthetic into effect. Drawing from his knowledge of history, he first sought simple, much repeated methods that might produce results within the socio-political system as it was. Later, discouraged by lack of whole-hearted response, he moved to a serious consideration of changing the system and in turn recommended socialism, communism, and finally revolution for a period n the future. Through all this, he held to the basic idea that civilization had developed to the point where change could be consciously planned instead of unconsciously permitted as it had been in the past centuries. The main part of the thesis, section four, uses some thirty lectures and articles for analyzing his esthetic and uses elements of his novel News from Nowhere, for illustrative purposes. The major elements of his esthetic which carries with it its own politics, religion, education and morality are functionalism, art, beauty, the proper uses of nature, pleasureful work and play, and happiness. The conclusion suggests how Morris’s esthetic for community which defines a good life in a just and equal society may be relevant to our times. Morris accepted a challenge of his day—motivating the working men, the rising middle class, and the leisure ridden wealthy to the possibilities of a nineteenth-century self-developing esthetic. Our present day faces a similar challenge—motivating the poverty stricken, the well paid middle and lower classes and the overly affluent to a twentieth century self-developing esthetic.


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Portland State College. Dept. of English

Persistent Identifier