Syllabus | Assignments

This seminar considers questions about artistic production, ecocriticism, and ideas about utopia and the “good society” raised by William Morris’ utopian romance News from Nowhere, a work which blends inherent charm, wide-ranging social criticism, and radical views of the family, gender relations, international affairs, architectural and urban design, and the nature and significance of creative work. We will attempt to explore what it would mean to live in a counterfactual society in which aesthetic and communitarian values, rather than corporate power, framed the lives of ordinary human beings.

We will use an illustrated online edition of the text ( to help understand visual aspects of Morris’s late nineteenth-century world, and devote several class periods to the study of designs by Morris and other Victorians.

Students will be asked to read several of Morris’s essays, keep a reading journal, and prepare short presentations about relevant background topics. In addition, one assignment will be to prepare a possible illustration and caption for the website. Grades will be based on attendance, participation, reading journals, and class presentations.

To post on the class discussion page, go to WebCT and login.



August 23rd Introduction to course; Morris's life

August 30th assignment: read introduction to Penguin edition

class: slides of Morris's designs

September 6th assignment: chapters 1-4

class: on-line edition chapters 1-16

September 13th assignment, chapters 5-8

class: discussion opening of book, chapters 1-4

September 20th class: discussion chapters 5-8

September 27th class: discussion chapters 9-13

October 4th on-line edition to end

October 11th class: Morris's illuminations and stained glass works

October 18th class: discussion chapters 14-17

October 20th class: discussion chapters 18-21

October 25th class: slides of Pre-Raphaelite artists

November 1st class: discussion chapters 22-25

November 8th class: discussion chapters 26-29

November 15th Morris's socialism, views on urban design

Thanksgiving break week of November 22nd

November 29th discussion chapters 30-32

December 6th essay, "The Beauty of Life"

December 13th: final session


Room 208 EPB, 1:05-2:25
Instructor: Florence Boos (
Office: 319 English-Philosophy Building
Office hours: most days, informally before class; Thursdays 2:45-3:45 and Wednesdays by appointment

Course assignments:

Since this is a one-hour course, the assignments will be less strenuous than would usually be required. Still, you need to contribute steadily to the course, and come to each session prepared to discuss.

attendance and preparation: a good way to prepare is to answer the questions for the relevant chapters in the guide to News, to be found on the study questions page under "British Literature," Morris, News from Nowhere.
For each week, you should prepare a one-page series of reflections, commentary or other response to something we have read or seen, for posting on our class website. (Go to WebCT. After you login, you need to go to the discussion page and begin your posting.) I will not grade these journals but will read them each week.

Most of your responses will probably be on some aspect of News from Nowhere. However a few of your postings may concern the designs and artwork we view together, Morris's life, background reading on Morris or his works, or one of his essays.

You could also visit Special Collections to look at one of Morris's Kelmscott editions and describe some of its features.

There will be no posting the first week, and one week you will submit a proposed illustration rather than a posting, so in total there should be 13 responses.
selection of illustration: sometime during the semester, please find a picture or drawing which you think might be added to the website. You should provide a copy of the picture, the citation, the page and location where you think it should be posted, and a suggested caption. For the week in which you submit a sample illustration, you need not prepare the one-page journal.

Final response: For submission during exam week, you are asked to prepare a three-page typed commentary of your reflections on some aspect of News from Nowhere--an evaluation, appreciation, argument or critique.

Or if you prefer, you may write a critical essay on some feature of the book--e. g. its use of the utopian tradition, its presentation of women, Morris's ideas on prisons. I will provide a list of some sample topics.

Sample Topics November 2005

Final Essay: William Morris’s News from Nowhere (3+ pages)

Some articles on News from Nowhere may be found at

Write an essay in which you discuss one of the following topics, using historical background and passages from the text to reinforce your points. You will also be asked to give a brief oral account of your essay.

Morris's Views in his Essays and News from Nowhere (e. g. "The Beauty of Life," “The Lesser Arts,” “Art and Socialism," "How We Live and How We Might Live," "The Society of the Future")

The Roles of Women/Education/Family Ties in News from Nowhere

The Blending of Genres in News from Nowhere: Pastoral, Dream Vision, Utopia, and Romance

“How The Change Came" and Late Nineteenth-Century Socialism (Morris's activities for the Socialist League, Bloody Sunday, “Monopoly,” “The Society of the Future,” the Socialist League Manifesto)

Geography and Spacial Arrangments in News from Nowhere/ The Transformation of London/
The Greening of London

Guest as Time-Traveller

The Use of the Narrator in News from Nowhere

Pleasure and Work in News from Nowhere

Morris’s Views on Education in News from Nowhere

The Past and the Future in News from Nowhere (the uses of history; the time-travel frame; or you might look at Morris's writings on the past, such as the essay on medieval times in Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome)

A Dream of John Ball and News from Nowhere

Art, Craftwork and Economic Arrangments in News from Nowhere (for art, you might look at his essays "The Lesser Arts" and "The Beauty of Life")

Buildings as Social Art in News from Nowhere (Morris's essays on architecture, his discussion of architecture in Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome)

Art, Labor, and Creativity: Ruskin's "The Nature of Gothic" and Morris's News from Nowhere

News from Nowhere and the Utopian Tradition (Thomas More’s Utopia, Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, etc.)

News from Nowhere as a Critique of Nineteenth-Century Industrialism

Nineteenth-Century Mutualist Anarchism and the Society of News (Kropotkin, Mutual Aid)

A Common Pattern: Morris's Artwork and News from Nowhere