ICELAND AS METAPHOR FOR INTEGRATION IN THE WORKS OF WILLIAM MORRIS

EMILY LOUISE MEREDITH, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

Underlying the wide diversity of William Morris' literary and non-literary works is his "single vision" of integration and synthesis. He perceived fragmentation in nineteenth-century British political and social institutions, in Victorian art, and in personal ethics. Morris' search for synthesis to counter such fragmentation is already apparent in his early works; however, he eventually discovered in the society and culture of medieval Iceland a metaphor for his ideals of harmonious society, integrated art and personal integrity.^ The references to Icelandic culture and Norse mythology in Morris' early writings are superficial and romanticized. Later, Morris gained deeper first-hand experience of the Icelandic language, literature and landscape, the agents through which he developed his own metaphor for social, aesthetic and personal integration.^ First, Morris believed that Victorian society violated his essential principles of unity and continuity, and he articulated his own societal ideals in the utopian "novel" News from Nowhere. In medieval Iceland, he discovered the metaphor for his ideal of a harmonious society which reduces class distinctions while respecting individual differences, a society in which men integrate themselves with each other and with their labor, laws, history and natural environment.^ Second, in the Icelandic family sagas, Morris discovered an art form which reflects his own ideals of aesthetic synthesis--freedom, spontaneity, capacity for growth, and all-inclusiveness.^ Finally, in his poetic masterpiece, Sigurd the Volsung, drawn primarily from Icelandic sources, Morris pulls together the many strands of the Sigurd legend into a new artistic creation. In this same poem, Morris expresses his own understanding of personal heroism, defining a hero as man (1) integrated into his broadly-defined community of family, nurturing society, history and cosmos, and (2) integrated within himself, blending good judgment with loving concern and decisive action. In Sigurd the Volsung, Morris further implies that personal heroism, like his dream of the utopian, integrated society, is no less meaningful because it is essentially unattainable.^ Morris' choice of Iceland as metaphor for political, social and aesthetic integration does not resonate sufficiently through common human experience; to many of Morris' readers, in fact, Iceland reflects isolation rather than integration. However, Sigurd the Volsung does offer an effective metaphor for personal heroism as Morris' composite view of hero-as-integrated-man gradually emerges from a series of fragmented, non-integrated, non-heroic characters. ^

Subject Area

Literature, English

Recommended Citation

EMILY LOUISE MEREDITH, "ICELAND AS METAPHOR FOR INTEGRATION IN THE WORKS OF WILLIAM MORRIS" (1980). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI8102333.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI8102333

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