William Morris - Socialism and the Egalitarian Values of Craftsmanship

By the 1880s, the huge wealth disparity created via the Industrial Revolution in Britain had led William Morris to become a socialist. We will look at how Morris’ political involvement in later life evolved from his earlier understanding of the role of the craftsman as integral to a society based upon fraternity, social equality and human flourishing. We will also see how the Socialist League, that Morris helped found, brought together a broad array of early progressive views. This included proponents of vegetarianism and even an advocate for same-sex attraction. While Morris’ Utopian socialist novel, News From Nowhere, would be one of the inspirations for the garden city urban planning movement, which aimed to unite the benefits of the countryside with those of the metropolis.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • Thomas Carlyle, Selected Writings .,ed Alan Shelston (Penguin Classics: 2015).
  • Fiona McCarthy, William Morris: A Life for our Time (Faber and Faber: 1994).
  • Philip Henderson, William Morris: His Life, Works and Friends (Thames and Hudson: 1967).
  • Tristram Hunt, Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City (Penguin Books: 2019).
  • Owen Jones, Decorative Ornament (Tess Press: 2006).
  • Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx: A Biography (Bloomsbury, 2018).
  • Michael Leapman, The World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation (Headline Book Publishing: 2002).
  • May Morris, William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist Vol. 1 and 2 (Cambridge University Press: 2012).
  • William Morris, News From Nowhere and Other Writings (Penguin Books: 1993).
  • William Morris: Selected Poems (Fyfield Books: 1992).
  • Linda Parry, _William Morris Textiles _(Harry N. Abrams: 1996).
  • John Ruskin, Modern Painters .,ed David Barrie (Pilkington Press: 2000).
  • John Ruskin, Unto This Last and Other Writings (Penguin Classics: 1985).
  • John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice., ed Jan Morris (Moyer Bell: 2007).


  • Why did Morris become a socialist? We will examine this question via a biographical account of Morris’ life and the changes Britain underwent as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Central to this, will be the pivotal role played by the writings of the art critic, John Ruskin. Ruskin’s conception of the craftsman would define Morris’ own views regarding the symbiotic relationship of the arts to work and social equality.
  • Morris and socialism in the late nineteenth century: We will move onto understanding Morris’ role within the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League. We will then consider the impact of Morris’ socialist ideals upon Britain and the world more broadly.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Gain an appreciation of William Morris’ life and ideas within the broader context of Victorian cultural identity inclusive of the impact of the Industrial Revolution, liberalism, the Gothic Revival, Victorian civic identity and socialism.
  2. Gain a broad understanding for the breadth of William Morris’ artistic output and its relationship to his views about society and the role of the arts.
  3. Understand the seminal role that the writings of the art critic, John Ruskin had upon William Morris.
  4. See William Morris within the broader context of the early socialist movement in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

This course has no current classes. Please join the waiting list by clicking .