Town mouse on the utopia of William Morris

As an image of the future, William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) was pretty hopeless. He wanted to inspire, not predict. In a world without money, people work for the love of it, making beautiful garments and tobacco pouches that they’re pleased to give away, and sculling down to Oxfordshire for haymaking, because it’s fun.

Food is dispensed in public halls, for free. With local decision-making, the redundant Houses of Parliament serve as a dung store.

Alas, beauty is still not the prime mover of society. There remain plenty of ugly bridges, including the odd ‘old hideous iron abortion’; for civil-engineering purposes, stone and oak are generally out of favour. Suburbia has sprawled. But, walking through Hyde Park, with the sun sparkling, I couldn’t help feeling that parts of Morris’s vision have been fulfilled.

People do look younger, healthier and (thanks to medicine and cosmetics) comelier than their Victorian counterparts. The Thames is clean. Westminster Abbey is not smoke-blackened. As for the steam trains’ replacements, Morris once said ‘it seems probable that the development of electricity as a motive power’ would be a boon. Electric car plugs are in the West End; a smidgeon of Utopia has arrived.

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