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Trilling, L. (1973). Aggression and Utopia—A Note on William Morris's 'News from Nowhere'. Psychoanal Q., 42:214-225.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:214-225

Aggression and Utopia—A Note on William Morris's 'News from Nowhere'

Lionel Trilling

William Morris's great Utopian romance, News from Nowhere, is a work I once knew quite intimately but had not re-read for something like a decade. Recently, however, I turned to it again. My latest experience of the work was surprising in that it was marked by a mild distress, a degree of anxiety. When I tried to discover a reason for this, I seemed to find it in the book's attitude toward aggression. A salient element of News from Nowhere is its certitude that aggression can be rooted out of human nature. And when I went on to ask why this latest reading of the book should produce untoward feelings which had not occurred on any of my several previous readings, the answer that proposed itself was that a recent development of our culture had made this a different book from the one I formerly knew. It had changed the relation which the book's fantasies bore to actuality. Over the last decade many people, young people especially, have come to share Morris's certitude about the feasibility of extirpating aggression and this circumstance presumably gave it a new immediacy and force when I encountered it in the book. I was therefore led to the supposition that my disquiet was the result of confronting the possibility of a life in which aggression plays no part.

I shall begin my discussion of News from Nowhere by saying a word about its author. The peculiar power and charm of William Morris are suggested by the deep admiration in which he was held by two great writers of the generation after his own, William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. The dissimilarity of these men is legendary.

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