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New Left Review I/99, September-October 1976

Edward Thompson

Romanticism, Moralism and Utopianism: the Case of William Morris

Over the past two decades, my study of William Morris has come to be recognized as a ‘quarry’ of information, although in one or two instances it appears that it was a suspect quarry, to be worked surreptitiously for doctoral advancement. [*] Edward Thompson’s William Morris, Romantic to Revolutionary was first published by Lawrence & Wishart in 1955. A revised edition will be published early in 1977 by Merlin Press and by Pantheon Books (New York). This article is taken from a new Postscript in which the author reviews his own work (after a passage of twenty-one years), and also reviews more recent studies. The Postscript commences with a resumé of recent Morris studies before addressing substantive issues. One ought not to object to this: a quarry should release materials into the general fabric of scholarship. But what if my book was not a quarry but a construction meriting attention in its own right? And what if the stones lifted from it end up by adding only to the featureless sprawl of academic suburbia? At least the question may be put. But one must be careful as to how the question is put. Several of my successors, in volumes appearing from the most reputable academic presses, are in agreement that the question can be put in only one way: my scholarship is vitiated by Marxist dogmatism. A work ‘of intelligent and exhaustive scholarship’, in one generous account, ‘but it is marred by the author’s intense Marxian bias’. Morris’s activities ‘are examined through the prism of the class struggle and the result is a somewhat distorted view of Morris’s ideas’. Another finds my book ‘flawed’ by its misguided attempt to present its object as an orthodox Marxist’. A less generous critic notes that my book devoted ‘some 900 pages to demonstrate that Morris was really a Marxist’.

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Edward Thompson, ‘Romanticism, Utopianism and Moralism: The Case of William Morris’, NLR I/99: £3

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