Authors: William Morris

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist, poet, artist, and social theorist

Author Works


The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems, 1858

The Life and Death of Jason, 1867

The Earthly Paradise, 1868-1870 (3 volumes)

Love Is Enough: Or, The Freeing of Pharamond, 1872

The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, 1876

Chants for Socialists, 1884, 1885

The Pilgrims of Hope, 1885-1886

Poems by the Way, 1891


Three Northern Love Stories, and Other Tales, 1873 (with Eiríkr Magnússon)

The Aeneids of Virgil, 1875

The Odyssey of Homer, 1887

The Tale of Beowulf, 1895

Long Fiction:

A Dream of John Ball, 1888

A Tale of the House of the Wolfings, 1888

News from Nowhere, 1890

The Roots of the Mountains, 1890

The Story of the Glittering Plain, 1890

The Wood Beyond the World, 1894

Child Christopher and Goldilond the Fair, 1895

The Well at the World’s End, 1896

The Water of the Wondrous Isles, 1897

The Sundering Flood, 1897


Hopes and Fears for Art, 1882

The Manifesto of the Socialist League, 1885

Signs of Change, 1888

Statement of Principles of the Hammersmith Socialist Society, 1890

Manifesto of English Socialists, 1893 (with H. M. Hyndman and George Bernard Shaw)

Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome, 1893 (with E. Belfort Bax)

Williams Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist, 1936 (May Morris, editor)

The Letters of William Morris to His Family and Friends, 1950 (Philip Henderson, editor)

Icelandic Journals by William Morris, 1969

The Unpublished Lectures of William Morris, 1969 (Eugene D. LeMire, editor)

William Morris’s Socialist Diary, 1982 (Florence Boos, editor)

The Collected Letters of William Morris, 1984-1987 (4 volumes; Norman Kelvin, editor)


The Collected Works of William Morris, 1910-1915, 1966 (24 volumes; May Morris, editor)


The artist, poet, manufacturer, and socialist William Morris was the eldest son and third child of a bill-broker father and a music-teacher mother. As a boy he freely ranged through the primeval Epping Forest adjacent to his home and thus fed his romantic imagination and sharpened his naturally keen powers of observation. His formal education began at a neighborhood private school and terminated in 1856, after four years at Exeter College, Oxford. At Oxford he formed a lifelong friendship with the painter Edward Burne-Jones. For almost a year after his graduation, Morris served as an apprentice in an architect’s office. He then turned to painting and, in partnership with Burne-Jones, established a studio in London.{$I[AN]9810000450}{$I[A]Morris, William}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Morris, William}{$I[tim]1834;Morris, William}

William Morris

(Library of Congress)

At Oxford, Morris had been one of the originators of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, and to it he had contributed poems, essays, and tales. He continued to write poetry and in 1858 published The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems. Despite its excellence, Morris’s poetry always was a supplement to his regular work of drawing, painting (in both oils and watercolors), modeling, illuminating, and designing. In 1857 he became acquainted with Jane Burden, whom he married in April, 1859. After his wedding Morris gradually abandoned painting (his latest pictures are dated 1862) and concentrated on reestablishing designing and decoration as one of the five arts. He supervised the building of his own home, Red House, in which his theory of decoration was freely applied, and he formed a manufacturing and decorating firm which continued until 1874. In addition to decorating churches, the firm dealt in furniture, jewelry, carpets, tapestries, and the like.

After several years of virtual inactivity as a poet, Morris in 1867 published the epic The Life and Death of Jason. Twenty-five intricately and beautifully connected narrative poems, modeled after a work by Geoffrey Chaucer and known as The Earthly Paradise, were published in three volumes in 1868-1870. Becoming interested in both the Icelandic sagas and in moral, social, and political doctrine, Morris sought new ways of artistic expression and turned increasingly to the Middle Ages as his symbol of the essentials to which the practice of both life and art must return so that new beginnings may be made. During this period he translated the Icelandic Three Northern Love Songs as Three Northern Love Stories, and Other Tales, translated Virgil’s Aeneid as The Aeneids of Virgil, and composed his longest poem, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs.

In accord with his theory, Morris taught himself the trade of dying wools, silks, and cottons, and he became active in the Democratic Federation and later in the Socialist League. He lectured extensively and published several volumes of addresses and other prose writings, A Dream of John Ball being the most remarkable of these. Finally, because an immediate socialist revolution was not forthcoming, he resolved that socialists must educate people toward the achievement of such a revolution in the distant future. To depict his ideal, Morris turned again to the remote past and produced numerous romances such as The Well at the World’s End. Meanwhile, however, he produced his masterpiece of Utopian fiction, News from Nowhere, a romantic pastoral of future communism.

Among other activities of his later life was the establishing of the Kelmscott Press in 1890 to revive the art of fine printing. Publications of this press included a famous 1896 edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works with engravings designed by Burne-Jones, as well as several of Morris’s own writings. In 1895 Morris’s health began to decline, and he died on October 3, 1896. In literature, as in his amazingly numerous other endeavors (both aesthetic and social), the great effect of William Morris was to arouse the artistic sense and to initiate new beginnings.

BibliographyAho, Gary L. William Morris: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985. A good bibliographical resource.Burdick, John. William Morris: Redesigning the World. New York: Todtri, 1997. This biography, illustrated both color and black-and-white photographs, examines the full range of Morris’s talents: as designer, activist, businessman, poet, and prose writer.Coote, Stephen. William Morris: His Life and Work. Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1996. This biography considers not only the full range of Morris’s broad achievements but also his personal relationships. Bibliography, index.Faulkner, Peter. Against the Age: An Introduction to William Morris. London: Allen & Unwin, 1980. This readable introduction to Morris, with frequent quotations from his writings and contemporary criticism of his work, stresses the continuing relevance of Morris’s ideas for modern readers. The six chapters are arranged according to the stages of his life, each one introduced by an excerpt from a letter Morris wrote summarizing his own life. A selected list of primary and secondary sources and an index are included.Harvey, Charles. Art, Enterprise, and Ethics: The Life and Works of William Morris. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 1996. A life that focuses on Morris as businessman with reference to previous biographies, origins of his family’s wealth, his experiences abroad, and the ethical basis for his business. Bibliographical references, index.Kinna, Ruth. William Morris: The Art of Socialism. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2001. Study of Morris’s socialist philosophy as reflected in his utopian novel News from Nowhere.Kirchhoff, Frederick. William Morris. Boston: Twayne, 1979. This book provides an overview of Morris’s literary achievements, viewing them as “his central mode of self-discovery and expression.” Kirchhoff stresses the interdependence of theory, experience, and emotion, and of folk art and sophisticated literary traditions in Morris’s work. Includes a chronology, a select bibliography, and an index.Lindsay, Jack. William Morris: His Life and Work. New York: Taplinger, 1979. In this important full-scale biography, Lindsay builds on the work of earlier biographers, with emphasis on the changes throughout Morris’s life, along with the enduring influences of his childhood experience. A bibliography and an index are included.MacCarthy, Fiona. William Morris: A Life for Our Time. London: Faber and Faber, 1994. Brings all aspects of Morris’s childhood, personal life, political career, literary pursuits, and design innovations to bear on an understanding of the man and his achievements.McGann, Jerome J. Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. The focus here is on Morris’s poetry and its relation to his printing and graphic design, along with their mutual influence on modernism in British and American poetry. The nineteenth century’s value of the physical look of books brought import to the look of printed words and the meaning conveyed by that appearance.Oberg, Charlotte H. A Pagan Prophet: William Morris. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978. Oberg explores the paradoxes throughout the works of this “enigmatic Victorian” and then examines the unity in his poetry and prose fiction, which, she asserts, must be read as a living whole. Includes an index and illustrations.Salmon, Nicholas. The William Morris Chronology. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996. This substantial reference (292 pages) contains more than two thousand entries, providing a nearly daily account of the life, along with stories and anecdotes told by contemporaries. A unique guide to Morris’s life and career. Bibliography.Silver, Carole. The Romance of William Morris. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1982. Silver focuses on Morris’s use of romance in this book-length study because “interwoven in the poems and romances Morris wrote throughout his life are the strands of all his other thought.” Seven chapters trace the patterns in Morris’s romances through his career. Illustrations, a bibliography, and an index are included.Stansky, Peter. William Morris. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. This excellent brief study in the Past Masters series is less a collection of the essential facts than a reflective essay upon the essential Morris. Thoroughly readable and frequently witty.Thompson, Paul. The Work of William Morris. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Illustrated in both color and black and white, the standard concise introduction to Morris’s life.Tompkins, J. M. S. William Morris: An Approach to the Poetry. London: Cecil Woolf, 1988. Tompkins fills in the gaps in previous criticism of Morris’s writings by discussing the narrative poems in detail, paying attention to the sources of the tales and the links with Morris’s daily life. Includes an index.
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