Dear readers, member 7432 here.
The world is a violent place. Since the last time I wrote there have been terror and disasters in London and elsewhere. Months have passed since my last blog. What have I been doing, apart from longing to dig into my Morris books and dream about dreamy wallpapers or perfect tea at The William Morris Gallery, some day without deadlines, clocks ticking and terrible news from the world? Most of us in the West are OK, it’s a lot worse elsewhere. I have felt somewhat guilty for having all these idyllic daydreams of Morris. But isn’t that the way it works? We dream, and dream even more when times are complex and brutal. Morris can give comfort and hope, it’s all there in the books and patterns, in his dreams of a more human and better society.
Working as a freelance writer in Sweden, I have been busy processing loads of information about other things than Morris: bio fuel for aeroplanes, luxury villas in Gothenburg, ceramics from the 1930’s, diamonds for Christmas, old chairs and stone in churches. I have been flying in a cockpit of a turboprop, meeting an 86 year-old Spanish design legend and, trying to stay in balance, listening to Chic records in between. All this activity has unfortunately kept me away from the dear, bearded master in Hammersmith.
Well, I have bought a small, lovely book: Edward Burne-Jones The Hidden Humourist, written by John Christian for an exhibition at The British Museum back in 2011. Burne-Jones’ charming drawings bring us right back, close to the two old friends Edward and William. There are pictures of Topsy reading poetry; cooking in Iceland, drinking wine and taking his boots off (with difficulty). Burne-Jones himself is in wonderful despair in front of one of his Briar Rose paintings. Lovely.
Another interesting book is a collection of five years of blogging about Morris: William Morris – the blog by renowned Morris aficionado Tony Pinkney. He is a Morris expert, especially News from Nowhere and the utopian, socialist Morris interested him. Pinkney writes about this and that, ”Morris one-liners”, different research projects, plans for The Kelmscott Coach house, steampunk and musings on “Jane Morris, novelist?”. He hopes that the lost notes for T.S. Eliot’s Morris lecture of 1917 someday will be found in a dusty drawer.
These digital reflections are filled with spontaneous thoughts and fancy, as blogs often are, but Pinkney’s enthusiasm works well also between book covers. It’s nice just reading here and there, and find Pinkney’s ideas and Morris-connections with everyday life.
Here’s an interesting bit: ”William Morris is an unfinished project and some of the ways in which we currently honour and remember Morris and his work serve as ways of prematurely ’finishing’ him, even finishing him off, and that he must accordingly be ’unbound’ or liberated from these.” The question is: Topsy today; how can we use his legacy?
I, myself have actually been a wee bit Morris-busy. I wrote an article about him in Sweden’s biggest antique magazine Antik & Auction. Here’s a glimpse of the pages, out now in June-July. Fortunately it’s in the local tongue called Swedish, so most of you can’t read and judge this rather amateurish survey.
How does one write about William Morris? It’s tricky just thinking about writing. I take a quick look at my 100 or so Morris books on the shelf. People have written so much since 1896, so where does one start?
”He was born 1834…”. Too boring. There was some special things worth mentioning. There’s a connection between Morris and the Swedish artist couple Carl and Karin Larsson and their famous home Lilla Hyttnäs that became well known, even abroad, as an ideal Arts and Crafts home in the early 1900’s. The Larssons knew about Morris and were keen readers of The Studio. Their home, situated outside the town of Falun, is a very much loved museum today, and maybe the closest we come to a Red House of our own.
Another Swedish writer and ”beautiful home” propagandist, Ellen Key, was very influenced by Morris and the Arts and Craft movement. In the article I also tried to adjust the standard Swedish picture of Morris by adding his utopian visions and socialistic struggles, lifting him a bit from his contemporary and comfortable role as an idyllic Victorian pattern maker. Here’s a small sample: “Morris’s message is also well-liked to the British Turner-winning artist Jeremy Deller’s socially engaged folk art. At the English Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013 Deller showed the wall painting We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold where a Morris giant throws the oligarch Roman Abramovich’s super yacht Luna into Venice’s lagoon. It was William Morris re-activated from Victorian garden gnome to political freedom fighter for the 21st century.”
So, with another summer on it’s way, I will hopefully be able to return to my dear freedom fighter books, getting lost in old paper, dust and tales of Topsy’s frantic work load. In my own inner timeframe it’s still April, and I, like George Michael, pray for time, lots of long empty afternoons and early mornings. As Louis Armstrong, and later a more world weary Iggy Pop sang: “We have all the time in the world. Just for love. Nothing more, nothing less. Only love”. And we all know that love is enough, don’t we?
An afterthought: is there, anywhere in the James Bond world any connection, any point where Bond and Morris, these two quintessential British icons, meet? Somewhere in Fleming’s novels maybe or in the films? Bond entering a hotel room with bullet marked Morris wallpapers? Or a discreet hint by a smart film stylist: Blofeld and his cat in a Sussex chair, pondering inscrutable plans for the destruction of the world…