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William Morris

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William Morris: A Life for Our Time by Fiona MacCarthy is the magisterial biography of one of the great figures of Victorian arts and crafts, from one of our greatest popular historians.

About the Author

Fiona MacCarthy established herself as one of the leading writers of biography in Britain with her widely acclaimed book Eric Gill, published in 1989. Byron: Life and Legend was described by A. N. Wilson as 'a flawless triumph' and William Morris, described by A. S. Byatt as 'large, delicious and intelligent, full of shining detail', won the Wolfson History Prize and the Writers' Guild Non-Fiction Award. Fiona MacCarthy received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography for The Last Pre-Raphaelite, and was awarded the OBE for services to literature in 2009.


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 naïve, 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. (Sept.)

"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.

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