• “The Land of Matters Unforgot”: North and South, Past and Present in William Morris’s "The Earthly Paradise"

    Author(s):
    John Stephenson (see profile)
    Date:
    2008
    Subject(s):
    19th-century English poetry, 19th-century British literature, 19th-century British culture
    Item Type:
    Essay
    Tag(s):
    William Morris, Hellenism
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/e2q5-qx29
    Abstract:
    Nineteenth century British writers and artists looked back to, and in some cases attempted to claim a cultural heritage not their own. Rather than appealing to the indigenous Germanic and Celtic mythos, the literature, art, and culture of Ancient Greece provided a palliative to contemporary anxieties regarding social order, cultural achievement, and identity. This perceived superiority of Southern European antiquity, though seen by writers such as Gladstone as a precursor to medieval Christendom, is curious given the vigorous Northern European (particularly Norse) tradition. William Morris drew upon the Northern myths as well as the medieval Arthurian Romance tales in his writings, and in the epic collection "The Earthly Paradise", describes cross-cultural exchange between wandering “Northmen” and the inhabitants of an undiscovered island community of Ancient Greeks. This frame story, along with Morris’s own commentary, around the tales from the Nordic and Hellenistic traditions provides an example of a possible intertwining of the two cultures in the context of the nineteenth century British engagement with antiquity. Morris’s poetry is illustrative not only of perceptions of Germanic and Mediterranean European culture, but also the relation of our present to a multitude of pasts.
    Notes:
    Paper originally submitted to E-235/W: Hellenism in 19th-Century British Literature, Art, and Culture (Graduate credit), Harvard University Extension School, 21 May 2008. Minor revisions 2 May 2019.
    Metadata:
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    11 months ago
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    Attribution
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