The first installment of William Morris’ Victorian scientific romance News from Nowhere was published in Commonweal on January 11, 1890. Like Rip Van Winkle or Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the narrator William Guest slept his way to another time. He awoke in the future socialist utopia of the crazy far off year of 2012.
Guest left the Victorian era to find a future where people live in idyllic, post-Marxist, and agrarian conditions. Industrialism is a thing of the past. There are no courts, no institutional schools, and marriage is a free social contract. Perhaps the most relevant concept is that work, since it is performed in a pastoral and earth-friendly setting, has been transformed from labor to a creative endeavor.
This sets Morris apart from his contemporaries. He wrote News from Nowhere for the British socialist newspaper Commonweal after reviewing Edward Bellamy’s best-selling Looking Backward: 2000-1887, in which a Victorian sleeper awakes in a utopian socialist state. Morris addressed a critique of socialism: what’s so great about work that we all want to do it? The response tended to be that work was a necessary evil, since everybody seemed to be doing it, and that it required regulation of one form or another. Morris posited that if we lived closer to nature, we would be closer to our true selves and be able to enjoy our tasks. This strain of thought has informed ludic critics like Bob Black, Hakim Bey and John Zerzan.
News from Nowhere also stands in contrast to H.G. Wells’ 1895 The Time Machine. Socialists wrote both, but show different attitudes. Wells advocated a world government. His critique in The Time Machine showed the leisure and working classes degenerating into the withering Eloi and the bestial Morlocks. Wells’ unregulated future is cannibalistically fierce. Morris’ future is a “nowhere” in that nothing is defined by state borders or bureaucracies. There are no divisions that separate us from the natural world.