William Morris and the Aesthetics of Manly Labour

Ruth Livesey

in Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2007 | ISBN: 9780197263983
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734731 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

William Morris and the Aesthetics of Manly Labour

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This chapter traces this complex history of aestheticism, socialist aesthetics, and early modernism through a study of the development of William Morris's works in the later nineteenth century. Placing Morris's aesthetic development in the context of the writings of John Ruskin and Walter Pater, the discussion explore Morris's resistance to an emerging aesthetic that emphasized individual taste and consumption, rather than communal production. In his socialist essays, Signs of Change (1888) Morris developed an aesthetic continuum that enabled him to collapse the distinction between art and bodily labour and imagine a future of communal artistic production after the revolution. Both the radical nature of Morris's aesthetic and its preoccupation with productive masculinity are emphasized by contrasting his work to Wilde's essay ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ (1891).

Keywords: William Morris; John Ruskin; Walter Pater; communal production; Oscar Wilde; Signs of Change; productive masculinity

Chapter.  11628 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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