Where Medieval Romance Meets Victorian Reality: The “Woman Question” in William Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World

  • Lori Campbell


One of the most important figures in terms of the Victorian preoccupation with the Middle Ages, William Morris (1834–1896) directed his business ventures as well as his political and artistic endeavors toward re-creating what he and many others viewed as a more humane, graceful approach to living. Regarded as the father of the Utopian fiction that became a staple of Victorian fantasy, Morris was a Renaissance man whose undertakings in design, literature, and politics make him an indispensable figure for helping us to comprehend the period as a whole. Despite the large body of work Morris left upon his death in 1896, however, his opinions on gender equality remain clouded by avoidance and contradiction.1 Morris’s prose romance The Wood Beyond the World (1894) constitutes a crucial text for unraveling how his Socialism fits with his attitude toward the male—female dynamic. Wood relates the journey of a merchants son that begins in a “real” world mirroring Morris’s capitalist milieu; however, the story’s diction and setting are obviously medieval. Blaming his own youthful wanderlust on his wife’s supposed infidelity, Walter leaves behind one stormy relationship only to engage with two magical women whose motives and actions appear even more difficult to fathom. This, combined with the fact that both women in the faerie realm ultimately fall in direct result of their interactions with Walter, makes Wood a powerful example of the paradoxes inherent in Morris’s vision of equality.


Female Helper Woman Question Female Power Victorian Society Cliff Wall 
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Copyright information

© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lori Campbell

There are no affiliations available

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