In 1951 E.P. Thompson published an article with the dramatic title ‘The Murder of William Morris’, though the killing to which he referred was metaphorical rather than literal, a matter of the depoliticising of Morris’s life and work by the American biographer Lloyd Eric Grey. Still, just occasionally Morris scholars have taken Thompson’s title more literally and suggested how their subject might indeed have been killed rather than dying in his bed from the complications of diabetes in October 1896.
A. Clutton-Brock memorably gives us two such scenarios in his 1914 study of Morris. In the chapter on ‘Morris as a Socialist’, he writes: ‘we cannot doubt that, if the revolution which he hoped for had come in his time, he would have been a revolutionary leader; or that, if it had failed, he would have been put to death by the victors. He might also, if it had degenerated into a terror, have been put to death by the victors of his own side. But even, then, we may be sure, he would have died with courage and without despair’ (p.150).
It has been one of the recurrent motifs of this blog, prompted by the extraordinary rise of creative writing courses in university English Literature departments in recent years, that creative means may avail where history, criticism or scholarship let us down. We may not have had that Morrisian revolution in the UK, but could not some aspiring short story writer out there take up Clutton-Brock’s two imaginary scenarios and narratively flesh out for us his powerful political answers to the title of this post: who killed William Morris?