Sexual Politics, Pomegranates and Production: William Morris’s The Defence of Guenevere and La Belle Iseult in Dialogue, Anna Marie Attwell
Examining patterns in William Morris’s poetry and book art, Isolde Karen Herbert observes that ‘Morris’s perception is aesthetically and politically dialectical’. Patterns in Morris’s texts, she argues, have ‘narrative potential’. This essay explores the dialectic quality and narrative potential of Morris’s early poetry and arts from an intertextual perspective, beginning with his first volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems (1858) and his only surviving oil painting, La Belle Iseult (1857-58). Through recurrent visual motifs, intertextual allusions and the figurative re-working and re-presentation of Jane Burden (later Jane Morris) in paint and poetry, glass and embroidery, Morris generates a protean figure – both problematic femme fatale and martyr to love, whose silent presence points to the uncomfortable disjunction between idealism and commerce in Morris’s life and work.