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William Morris and the Idea of Community

Romance, History and Propaganda, 1880–1914

Anna Vaninskaya

Hardback i (Printed to Order)
eBook (PDF) i

Named Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011

The great polymath William Morris and his contemporaries and followers - from H. Rider Haggard to H. G. Wells - are the focus of this study. Anna Vaninskaya draws upon a wide array of primary sources: from working-class fiction and articles in fringe socialist newspapers to historical treatises, autobiographies and diaries, in order to explore the many ways Victorians and Edwardians talked about community and modernity.

Vaninskaya’s narrative moves from the realm of romance bestsellers and sniggering reviews to debates in weighty historical tomes, and then to the headquarters of revolutionary parties, to street-corners and shabby lecture halls. She demonstrates how in each domain the dream of community clashed with the reality of the modern state and market.

Key Features

  • Brings together for the first time in one interdisciplinary study the worlds of fin de siècle literature, politics, and historiography
  • Redefines the terms of the critical debate about the late-Victorian romance revival
  • Puts into dialogue mainstream and marginal literary productions
  • Uncovers the full extent of the contemporary radical appropriations of nineteenth-century scholarship
  • Incorporates previously unexamined archival material


1. The Romance Revival
2. The Paradoxes of Mr Morris
3. The Dark Ages
4. The Middle Ages
5. Socialist Hybrids
6. Education and Association

About the Author

Anna Vaninskaya spent equal portions of her life in Russia, America, and Britain. She received her doctorate in English Literature from Oxford University, worked as a research fellow at King's College, Cambridge and with the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group, and is now a Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include nineteenth-century socialism, popular reading, and historical cultures, the history of education and the work of writers such as Morris, Wells, Chesterton, Orwell, and Tolkien.


The empirical basis of the work is impressive, as is its handling of the different textual elements on which it draws (literature, history, pamphlets, diaries)...

- Ben Moore, The Modern Language Review
The questions which Vaninskaya's book wrestles with and provokes are enormous and her resolution is optimistic and forceful.
- Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory, Loughborough University, The Journal of William Morris Studies
Literature, history and politics – William Morris's task of building socialism in a capitalist world required action on all three fronts. Anna Vaninskaya's authoritative, lucid and yet passionate book provides a confident guide to all three fronts and to the wider world of Victorian understandings of community and civilization.
- Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge

...offers a thorough and probing account of the intellectual context of Morris’ socialist literary writings and their aftermath in the pre-World War I period.

- Florence Boos, Professor of Victorian Literature, University of Iowa, Victorian Poetry

[This book] is a rigorous and refreshing re-assessment which exemplifies the inter-disciplinarity that it seeks to uncover in late Victorian and Edwardian socialist circles.

- Sarah Edwards, University of Strathclyde, Victoriographies

Anna Vaninskaya’s book is absorbing, thoroughly researched, and original...Vaninskaya’s central theme—Morris and the idea of community—is splendidly developed by her deep knowledge of history and her skill in weaving together the strands of her many-sided subject.


- Norman Kelvin, City University of New York, Victorian Studies

'ambitious and methodologically explorative...range[s] freely across much illuminating and recondite material...a persuasive and comprehensively researched reconstruction of the wider intellectual culture in which Morris was situated'

- Journal of Victorian Culture Online

Stimulating, scholarly and wide-ranging study.

- Peter Faulkner, University of Exeter, Cercles
Anna Vaninskaya's book is absorbing, thoroughly researched, and original.
- Norman Kelvin, CUNY, Victorian Studies, 54.4

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