Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Paul Schmidt
Dr. Leeanne Richardson
Dr. Scott Lightsey
Between 1888 and 1896, William Morris wrote several medieval-inspired, proto-fantasy romances which have consistently threatened to fall into the doldrums of literary criticism. I am particularly interested, here, in the most complete of these compositions entitled The Story of the Glittering Plain, The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World’s End, The Water of the Wondrous Isles, and The Sundering Flood: texts which I call Morris’s late romances. Critics who have engaged with these texts have often taken on the difficult task of reconciling Morris’s growing political vehemence during the time of their composition and the ostensibly escapist stance these romances seem to purport. As such, critics have largely relied on Morris’s fidelity of the Middle Ages as a time that offered a more authentic, original, innocent, or natural mode of human experience, which Morris preferred over the industrial capitalism of his own Victorian period. Through various versions of this stance, critics have articulated that the late romances can offer socially progressive content through an outdated mode of literary production.
While this dissertation maintains the significance of anti-escapist readings of these late romances, it also expresses the value of alternative readings of the critical appeal to authenticity. Using critical theories from Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, and most especially Slavoj Žižek, this dissertation suggests that any recognition of authenticity is reliant upon its own corruption and that part of the communist value of William Morris’s late romances exists not in their exemplification of a (medieval) world unblighted by modern corruption but through their demonstration of the conceptual necessity to incorporate modern corruption into any possible vision of past authenticity. That is, the late romances show that past authenticity is a product of an intellectual frame produced by modern corruption; they therefore imply that, in a similar way, communism can only become recognizable as a result of capitalist exploitation. In this way, I hope to aid in resurrecting these beautiful and valuable texts so that they can play a role in the communist struggles of the future.
Barrett, Benjamin, ""[I]f such times came back upon us": Modes of Infidelity in the Late Romances of William Morris." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2017.