Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Short Things by William Morris

While I was on my trip I read a couple of short William Morris pieces on my tablet.

The Defence of Guenevere is a poem containing Guenevere's speech at the moment when she is about to be burned for adultery.  She tells the story of her relationship with Lancelot, from the moment she first saw him.  At the same time she repeats over and over:

Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie, 
Whatever happened on through all those years, 
God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie.


I also read a paper titled The Ideal Book, which contains Morris' ideas about how books should be printed: their layout, spacing and typography, the kind of paper that ought to be used, the size, and how illustrations or ornaments ought to look.  It's quite short and rather interesting, especially when he goes off on a bit of a tangent about the need for a really good English Black-Letter type that would be both easy to read and artistically tolerable.

The funny thing about this little essay was that it had been set and printed as a learning exercise (I presume from the inscription) at an arts and crafts college.  As far as I can tell from reading a digital scan of the original, the student carefully followed Morris' rules as best he could.  I can't say I really think the result is artistically wonderful.  Oh well.



I have also started reading The Well at the World's End, a knightly adventure which will probably take me quite a long time.  It's written in a Victorian pseudo-medieval style that goes rather slowly.  Also Morris named his young hero Ralph, which does not sound very heroic or knightly to the modern American ear.  This really bugs my Russian sister-in-law, who thinks that Ralf is a very nice name (and I must say that using an F instead of a PH really helps!), but I can't help having grown up watching Happy Days all the time.

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