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Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914$
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Ruth Livesey

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263983

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263983.001.0001

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William Morris and the Aesthetics of Manly Labour

William Morris and the Aesthetics of Manly Labour

1 (p.18) William Morris and the Aesthetics of Manly Labour
Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914

Ruth Livesey

British Academy

This chapter traces this complex history of aestheticism, socialist aesthetics, and early modernism through a study of the development of William Morris's works in the later nineteenth century. Placing Morris's aesthetic development in the context of the writings of John Ruskin and Walter Pater, the discussion explore Morris's resistance to an emerging aesthetic that emphasized individual taste and consumption, rather than communal production. In his socialist essays, Signs of Change (1888) Morris developed an aesthetic continuum that enabled him to collapse the distinction between art and bodily labour and imagine a future of communal artistic production after the revolution. Both the radical nature of Morris's aesthetic and its preoccupation with productive masculinity are emphasized by contrasting his work to Wilde's essay ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ (1891).

Keywords:   William Morris, John Ruskin, Walter Pater, communal production, Oscar Wilde, Signs of Change, productive masculinity

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