News from Nowhere
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William Morris’s News from Nowhere is as representative of the Utopian genre as any. Morris was an English socialist, an intimate of Friedrich Engels, and wealthy enough to lead of life of leisure. News from Nowhere, like all Utopian romances of the period, is a reaction to Industrialism. Morris retreats from the grim, blighted landscape of 1890 London for a bright future that is everything his present is not. “The soap works with their smoke-vomiting chimneys were gone; the engineer’s works gone; the lead-works gone; and no sound of riveting and hammering came down the west wind from Thorneycroft’s”.
Morris, taking his cue from Marx, sees society as struggle. Morris has one of his characters from the 21st century describe the “terrible period of transition from commercial slavery to freedom”. From wage-slavery to State Socialism to pure Communism, Morris’s envisioned history is a Marxist dream.
Morris is showing that, above all else, he yearns for change. Utopian fiction is based on the idea of changing society for some perceived blissful state. In Morris’s case, he wants to change society so that every one can be like himself: free to pursue intellectual endeavors and live in a paradise. It is ironic that Morris’s entire life was based upon inherited wealth. Morris owed his entire position to the very same capitalistic system that he seeks to destroy. Both Marx and Engels for that matter came from privileged backgrounds. They, like Robespierre, suffered from the blocked ambitions of the middle class: rich enough to have leisure and recognize that society is inherently unjust.
Morris cannot escape being a product of modernity. His father was a stockbroker, an occupation created by modern society. He yearns for complete change to a system that is based on an idea that is post-Industrial, yet the idea of constant change is a product of the modern Industrial world. Morris not only cannot escape his paradox, he cannot even see it.