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William Morris: A Life for Our Time Hardcover – September 26, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
An accomplished and original designer of textiles and furniture, books and typefaces, a socialist activist, poet and novelist (News from Nowhere), Morris (1834- 1896) had a "magpie mind" that sought expression in any number of media. MacCarthy (Eric Gill, a prize-winning biography of the sculptor), illuminates the paradoxes that shaped Morris's "painfully heroic progress through life." Morris was a manufacturer of lush housewares who rejected his father as a "capitalist villain"; an astringent critic of Victorian England who nearly became its poet laureate; a man both worldly and naive, stymied by his wife's affair with the charismatic Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Morris emerges in vivid snapshots as vital, protean and compassionate. This is the biography of a temperament?of a burgeoning reaction against late Victorian bourgeois complacency?that Morris shared with his friend painter Edward Burne-Jones, Rossetti, George Bernard Shaw and others. It also is shaped by interesting extended discussions?of the period's architecture, politics and literature?that sometimes distract from the account of the life they purportedly illuminate. Erudite, lavishly illustrated, including 24 pages of color, and absorbing, this is of interest for the amateur as well as the professional student of Victorian England.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
"When William Morris was dying one of his physicians diagnosed his disease as 'simply being William Morris and having done more than most ten men."' This was in part true of the driven man who was a poet, translator, publisher, businessman and retailer, medievalist, weaver, textile designer, political activist, early environmentalist, father of British Socialism, and guiding force behind the Arts and Crafts movement. With his complex versatility, Morris was an enigma to his Victorian contemporaries. Though there have been numerous works on different aspects of Morris's work, MacCarthy (Eric Gill, LJ 3/1/89) tackles the massive job of the complete story. Her five years of research show in her full and vivid understanding of the artist, the man, his friends, relatives, and era. Well illustrated, this work will serve as a worthy companion to Elizabeth Wilhide's book of Morris interiors, William Morris: Decor and Design (LJ 2/1/92), and the Gillian Naylor-edited William Morris, By Himself: Designs and Writings (New York Graphic Society, 1988). Highly recommended.?Joseph Hewgley, Nashville P.L.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
What strikes me in particular is McCarthy's care in delving into Morris' psyche & private life. While there's plenty to be gleaned from both his writing & the memoirs of others, she often tells us that she won't speculate on this or that particular topic because she simply doesn't have enough information to deliver a reasonably probable answer. The anguished tangle of Morris' marriage & friendships is illuminated as much as possible, but some of it remains hidden by Victorian propriety even now. To her credit, McCarthy leaves it there without resorting to wild hunches & pathography. Suffice it to say that Morris' psyche was obviously as rich & complicated as his many artistic talents were diverse.
Still, there is much to say about this enormously energetic & driven man, and McCarthy does her best to convey as much as she can in a lucid, unencumbered fashion. There's just so much to deal with! Yet she invariably makes everything clear for the reader -- timelines, influences, relationships, artistic responses -- and all of it in context of Morris' time & place in history. Further, she offers a sympathetic & keen-eyed appraisal of his work as a writer, a Socialist, and a wide range of artistic pursuits. Some of his frequently disparaged work is shown to be more than popular & critical opinion would have it; at the same time, she unerringly points out its flaws & weaknesses. Without over-praising Morris as a creative artist, she does take him more seriously than others have in the past, and invites us to see that as well. The poetry comes out better than expected, however uneven; and the late romances reveal much of his worldview, filtered through fine storytelling.
Lastly, Morris is sometimes regarded as well-meaning but naive in his attitudes toward Socialism & the living of a meaningful life. McCarthy remedies that short-sighted verdict by thoroughly examining the growth of his worldview, finding in him a man very much aware of his own times & anticipating the increased crassness & emptiness of modern society. In this he remains a relevant figure, with much to say about our contemporary consumerist world, so driven by greed, power & sheer ugliness as the expense of the human spirit.
A book well worth several readings -- most highly recommended!
In fact I have already finished reading this superbly documented and generously
illustrated biography by the talented Fiona MacCarthy. I am quite a fan of her biographies.
I am a committed Pre-Raphaelite junkie, preferring to lose myself in this wonderful
Victorian art world. I have by now quite a library of books on the Pre-Raphaelites largely
purchased from Amazon both in the U K and the U S A, all arriving without fail in far off
Australia within the delivery time promised.
This book doesn't have many colors inside, but it contains many black and white photographs, that are of great interest for those who like to read about William Morris and his time. And the combination of text and photographs create so many images in your mind, that you forget about color.
For the same people, this is the the final book about William Morris and his life. It's not the book to buy, if you want to know all about his printing of books in Kelmscott Press (there you have to go for Peterson's books), but it's the book about all the other stuff you want to know about Morris - and everything, you didn't know, you would want to know.
Having spent more than 5 years on this matter, Fiona MacCarthy has succeeded in making an extraordinary and therefore the final biography on William Morris.
More than 700 pages with more than 100 pages of source and reference notes.
It's a book to read and to read again and to use, when you're working with text about the period, the arts & crafts movement - or simply with Morris. Buy it, even if you don't have the money - wear the old jacket another year. You won't regret.
As long as it's out of print, you have to go to the library, where you should tell them to order some more books, so they print more.