[In the following passage from the introduction to her book on William Morris, Hanson presents the main argument “Set against this prevailing view, it is the premise of this book that underlying all of Morris's work is the commitment to a myth of violence.” — George P. Landow.]

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rom mid-Victorian Pre-Raphaelite medievalism or the 'old northernism' of writers and scholars on the Teutonic and Scandinavian past to the socialism of the fin de siècle, Morris works on the borderlines of traditions of culture, art or politics that interact specifically with ideas of violence and its purpose: a man of his time, however much he felt out of place in it. Yet the use he makes of violence is peculiar to him; the imbrication of violent action, work and play, of self-sacrifice and stoicism combines old traditions in a way that complicates their meanings. Morris the medievalist romantic uses the past to suggest disorder, rather than order; Morris the socialist adapts ideas of racial and linguistic purity and continuity from the old northernists and Nordicists of his time and ideas of self-sacrifice from the religious aristocratic discourses of chivalry. He simultaneously exposes and utilizes concepts of historical and geographical contrasts between civilization and barbarism that underlie the rationalization of colonialism; he engages with the various concepts of progress, peace and economic success that drive the nineteenth-century peace movement. His work spans the period between the end of the Crimean War and the years just before the second Boer War, a period of increasing political liberalism in which understandings of manliness and national identity are nonetheless closely bound up with shifting constructions of the meanings and uses of violence. Morris engages with developing cultural conversations about violence in relation to the body, the mind, the will and the nation, critiquing certain constructions of manliness, war and identity, but always fascinated with battle violence and its effects. [xi]

Related Material


Hanson, Ingrid. William Morris and the Uses of Violence, 1856-1890. London: Anthem Press, 2013. [Review in the Victorian Web]

Last modified 26 May 2010