A few years ago the iconoclastic architectural scholar Reyner Banham declared: William Morris's “ruralizing vision of John Ball's other island as a vast medieval dude-ranch full of bit players addressing one another as ‘Neighbour’ just doesn't stand up.” Surely not, if this indeed was Morris's vision. Yet did this vision originate with Morris or with certain of his interpreters?
E. P. Thompson has called attention to the growth of a “Morris myth.” Thompson argued that William Morris's revolutionism, and specifically, Marxism, had been buried under layers of praise (and disparagement) for a fictitious—and socially harmless—character. This mythic Morris was a mixture of romantic poet and traditional craftsman, in love with old English countryside and old English folk life. As such, he could be—and was—embraced by Liberals, Tories, and right-wing socialists.
Thompson's observation was not the first such, nor the last. By now these protests have altered the commonly accepted view of Morris, and we see the revolutionary within the medievalist, the communist within the craftsman. Yet no one has asked why the myth flourished. Thompson, like R. Page Arnot more briefly before him, saw this myth, properly, as something more than a simple mistake. Thompson followed the Marxist lead of Arnot in implying deliberate distortion for class purposes.