Writing The Defence of Guenevere


Morris’s departure for Oxford was a great event in his life. He made close friends who shared his interest in historical and contemporary art, poetry, and contemporary affairs--Edward Burne-Jones, a future painter, Cromwell Price, a future headmaster, Vernon Lushington, a future judge, and Richard Watson Dixon, a future poet and clergyman. This “Oxford Brotherhood” admired the poems Morris had begun to write, and when they decided as a group on the ambitious venture of founding a magazine, The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, Morris became its first editor and chief contributor, writing poems, essays and prose romances, all genres he would continue in later life.

These early writings were mostly set in medieval England or France, reflecting Morris’s love of medieval history and the two trips he took to northern France with friends and family members in the summers of 1854 and 1855. Another influence on Morris’s conflict-ridden interpretation of the middle ages was likely the ongoing Crimean War, prompting themes of warfare, combat and embattled masculinity.

The Oxford Brotherhood also took a special interest in art, and through Burne-Jones and other friends Morris met the slightly older artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), one of the original members of the artistic Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-53). Rossetti arranged for several Oxford students and Morris to join him in painting murals for the newly built Oxford Union debating hall (a student union and library) during 1857, and the young men and Rossetti roomed together in Oxford. In the evenings Morris read his new verses to his friends, and Rossetti offered suggestions and encouraged him to publish them. In late 1857 Morris arranged with the London publisher Bell and Daldy to issue his first volume, a bold gesture for a young man not yet 24, and The Defence of Guenevere appeared in early 1858.

Associated Place(s)