Monday, 3 February 2014

Ellen in and out of Nowhere

‘Just who is Ellen ... ?’ asks Patrick Parrinder impatiently, even angrily, in his fine 1991 essay on News from Nowhere (thus confirming her claim that she troubles men’s minds). Plenty of critics have tried to answer that question. Here are a few of their colourful suggestions.

‘A forecast of the next age’ (Middlebro, 1970); ‘we should not take Ellen to be Morris’ (Goode, 1971); ‘the anti-Janey’ (Lindsay, 1975); ‘Guest’s girl-friend’ (Parrinder, 1976); ‘echoes of course of Helen’ (Sharratt, 1980); ‘a multi-dimensional figure’ (Silver, 1982); ‘just stepped out of a painting by Burne-Jones’ (Holzman, 1983); ‘really Guest’s double’ (Sypher, 1984); ‘in a complex sense his daughter’ (Spear, 1984); ‘The Helen of the new world ... anticipates Santayana ... a Christ-figure’ (Boos, 1990); ‘an isolated Cassandra’ (Talbot, 1990); ‘bewitching Helen, destroyer of cities’ (Buzard, 1990); ‘Ellen’s symbolic significance of a further temporal dimension’ (Mineo, 1992); ‘dream combination of Pre-Raphaelite angel and Socialist New Woman’ (MacCarthy, 1994); Ellen-in-sunlight’ (Buzard, 1997); ‘Ellen-Diotima’ (Abensour, 1999); ‘Nowhere’s reassertion of the Gothic spirit’ (Kinna, 2000); ‘the model for a kind of dynamic immobility’ (Beaumont, 2004); ‘an element of May [Morris] in the character of Ellen’ (Cherry, 2007); ‘Ellen-as-world, or world-as-Ellen’ (Plotz, 2007); ‘Guest’s Beatrice, so to speak’ (Boos, 2010); Ursula Le Guin’s Shevek in Morris’s text (Pinkney, 2011); ‘the sublime’ (Pinkney, 2012). Ellen even has a Morrisian family, it would seem, since ’Birdalone is younger sister to the vibrant Ellen’ (Meier, 1972/78).

Let me add one or two more ideas. Ellen is a Lady of Shalott who breaks out of the enclosure of the Runnymede cottage to follow her Lancelot up the Thames, or a Medea-figure rowing up river to prepare her secret spells of power. Like her fellow-Nowherians, the critics compulsively fall ‘to making stories of [Ellen] to themselves’ (ch.XXVIII), and we can’t expect such story-telling about News from Nowhere’s most vivid character to end any time soon.

3 comments:

M. Frelock said...

Thanks for the whistlestop tour of Ellen-related criticism. Have you come across Linn Boyd Porter's novel 'Speaking of Ellen' (1890)? Is that title (and date) just coincidence, or could there have been some interaction between Morris's utopia and this work?

Tony Pinkney said...

Hum yes, very interesting Ellen reference there, thank you for that! I shall investigate and report back ...

Annie Brightling said...

Perhaps you should add Carole Silver to your list of critical quotes, since she gives us a Jungian version of the character in 'The Romance of William Morris' (1982): "Ellen represents Morris's pure anima" (p.154).