Rhetorical stance in William Morris
William Morris's extensive repertoire of prose and poetic works composed during the mid to late nineteenth century have evoked reactions from critics and scholars that range from indifference to admiration. Reviewers, using sundry critical approaches, have considered many important aspects and have expressed varied opinions about Morris's writings. In fact, the diverse interpretations of Morris's writings hinder the determination of a comprehensive view of this artist's works and suggest a need for a more holistic approach to examine this literature. For this reason, this study uses rhetorical stance as a heuristic for uncovering ideas existing in the literature that communicate a sense of unity in the author's seemingly varied writing.
Several studies assist in the process of ascertaining Morris's rhetorical stance. Sources on rhetorical theory supply information that helps to define stance and the manner in which it may operate within the writer's texts. The Rhetoric of Aristotle (Lane Cooper, ed., Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice, 1960) provides basic details on the function of the elements comprising stance--ethos, pathos, and logos. James E. Porter's Audience and Rhetoric (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice, 1992) suggests the effects of stance in the dynamic relationship between rhetor and audience. Other sources such as Florence Boos's monograph The Design of William Morris' Earthly Paradise (Lewiston, NY: Edwin, 1990) and the collection of essays, Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris (Boos and Carole Silver, eds, Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1990), assist in the interpretation of Morris's literary ideas.
The extraction of Morris's rhetorical stance from his poetry and prose serves as a deconstructive tool through which one may get at the essence of this author's act and art of communication. An intuitive artist, Morris displays in all of his works his comprehension of his shifting relationship with himself and the Victorian Age. As he works to balance his evolving concept of his readers with his own demands and persuasive ends, he diversifies his rhetorical stance. Four specific phases seem to signal these changes in stance: abstruseness, introspection, practicality, and practical/idealism. Thus, the consideration of Morris's evolving stance helps to determine his growth as an author, his association with his age, and his relationship with other works along the literary continuum. Morris uses his writing as a tool for inviting social improvement.