This thesis sheds light on Morris’s thematic concerns and narrative strategies in five of his little-studied prose romances: The Story of the Glittering Plain, The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World’s End, The Water of the Wondrous Isles and The Sundering Flood. The thesis argues that these romances can be read as significant texts in the development of the modern fantasy genre. The thesis aims to re-orient scholarly discussion of the prose romances in the context of fantasy literature.
Chapter 1, ‘Inventing Fantasy’, locates the prose romances within the social and cultural context of their production. It discusses the nature of the contemporary reception of the prose romances, and analyses how modern criticism has begun to re-value the prose romances as significant works within the modern fantasy genre. The chapter then identifies the main critical issues in fantasy scholarship. Finally, the chapter sets out the critical methodology for the rest of the thesis.
Chapter 2, ‘Inventing Place’, investigates the way Morris constructed his invented worlds. It identifies two points of reference for Morris’s ‘landscape of the mind’: one, his experience of real landscapes, particularly those of England and Iceland; and two, his Romantic imagination and desire to re-birth the romantic landscapes of medieval literature. The chapter utilises pastoral discourse, and its attendant rhetoric, in its close reading of the texts. It develops a critical foundation for the rest of the thesis by indicating the essential connection between the construction of place and the way in which the hero operates as part of the invented world.
Chapter 3, ‘Inventing the Quest-Hero’, investigates the construction of the male hero and the quest within the invented world. It uses as its point of departure the conventional hero-myth pattern as established by Joseph Campbell and other structuralists. The chapter demonstrates how Morris departs from the conventional male-heroic paradigm in two key ways: first, through the creation of strong female characters and second, through the type of conclusion he gives to the heroes’ quests. The chapter demonstrates the way the quests are related to the hero’s separation from the world of the familiar, to the hero’s interaction with the forces of nature, and to the hero’s relationship with women. The chapter pays particular attention to the role of the Maid in Walter’s quest in The Wood Beyond the World, and argues that Morris was working towards the creation of a new type of female hero.
Chapter 4, ‘Inventing the Female Quest-Hero,’ examines the construction of Birdalone in The Water of the Wondrous Isles as Morris’s unique female hero, reading her narrative through a feminist revisioning of the male hero-myth, and with reference to the established discourses of the pastoral.
Chapter 5, ‘Conclusion’, summarises the main points of the thesis, and suggests some ways forward for critical scholarship of the prose romances.