William Morris: A Rebel of His Time

Sitting at the welcome desk in Hornbake Library puts me right in front of our exquisitely designed William Morris exhibit, which opened at the beginning of September. Aesthetic quality aside, I did not have the slightest clue as to who William Morris actually was. So I decided that the only reasonable decision would be to find out exactly who this guy was and how he contributed to society. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that William Morris was a rebel of his generation and in simpler terms, a pretty cool dude.

Morris was born in England in 1834 and raised in a wealthy family. He was a child who was incredibly spoiled by his parents who lavished him with extravagant gifts. Around the age of nine, he became the lucky recipient of a pony and a suit of armor. Morris, in addition to his fiscal wealth, was also very intelligent. He was reading novels at the age of four and attended Oxford at the age of nineteen. When he was seventeen, Morris began to receive a generous allowance of 900 £ a year from his family fortune, which equates to $114,000.00 in today’s money. To me and probably a lot of other people, it sounds like Morris was living the dream.

However, Morris was a remarkably independently principled individual who rejected the values of the Victorian class system. Growing up in the Victorian Era, Morris was a part of the upper class that was born into money. One could not acquire wealth through individual strengths such as intelligence, hardwork, and perseverance. A family legacy of wealth and success dating years and years back was the only route to a life of the utmost privilege. In an impressive demonstration of autonomy, Morris became an advocate for socialism, a far cry from the principles he had been exposed to throughout his youth. Morris wrote various books about socialism and was the founder of the Socialist League, which dealt with equality, workers’ rights, and anti-war movements. He also fraternized with other famous socialists who joined the Socialist League, such as Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s daughter. Without much success, Morris often tried to persuade his rich friends to join the socialist movement. Morris also participated in protests for the freedom to publish pro-socialism texts and was actually arrested on more than one occasion.

Morris often felt that he belonged in another time period, much like many young people of today wish they were born in the 1960s. He was fascinated with the medieval way of life. The art, labor, and writings of the Middle Ages influenced much of his fantasy literature. Morris is considered the father of the fantasy literary genre, and has been cited as a major influence upon fellow authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. So next time you crack open a Game of Thrones novel or decide to sit down for a Harry Potter marathon, thank William Morris.

If you need someone interesting to focus on for a class project (Morris was active in politics, literature, and architecture), come visit the William Morris exhibit! Hornbake Library also has poetry and books written by Morris. Or, if you have an awkward gap between classes and want something better to do than wander through cyberspace, come visit our exhibit. You won’t be disappointed.

For more information on William Morris, visit:

For more information on Hornbake Library’s William Morris exhibit, visit:

Tracey G.

Why William Morris?

William Morris

William Morris

The Special Collections curators spent the last year hard at work preparing the current exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris. We  felt Morris was deserving of this exhibit because of the breadth of resources concerning Morris in Special Collections and because he was such a remarkable person. The curators realized that we had a rich collection of Morris’ writings, translations, and Kelmscott Press publications (and ephemera from Kelmscott Press). The University of Maryland Libraries had also recently purchased a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer and felt an exhibit the perfect opportunity to show off this gorgeous book.

In addition to showing off the excellent William Morris collection here in Special Collections, the curators were inspired by William Morris’ take on life. He was a man who always strove to improve the world around him. He wrote stories because he wanted to entertain and inspire people. Morris began a home decorating business, Morris & Co., because he wanted people to have beautiful and affordable decorations in their homes. He was a founding member of the historic preservation movement in Britain as well as the socialist movement. He cared about providing workers with meaningful work and making sure that the efforts of workers from previous eras was maintained. What do you find admirable about William Morris?