Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Greece. An unnamed Greek island is the place where the wanderers and city elders gather to tell stories, after one of the elders encourages the Norsemen to recount their adventures. The hosts tell stories from classical mythology, many with specific sites, such as “Atalanta’s Race” in the Arcadian woods, “Pygmalion and the Image” in Cyprus, “The Love of Alcestis” in Thessaly, “The Story of Acontius and Cydippe” in Delos, “The Golden Apples” on a ship from Tyre, and “Bellerophon at Argos.”


*Norway. Native country of the Norse wanderers, who originally sailed away from it to escape a pestilence—a terrifying example of the fear of death that is their impetus for seeking the Earthly Paradise. The wanderers’ stories derive from Norse and other medieval tales and reflect William Morris’s admiration for Icelandic sagas and the Norsemen’s skilled craftsmanship, courage, and endurance. Places in the Norsemen’s tales include mythic lands in “Ogier the Dane” and “The Fostering of Aslaug,” an identified dreamland in “The Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and Laxdaela in “Lovers of Gudrun,” a chivalric episode from the historical saga.


*England. Morris’s inspiration for this collection of tales was Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), and England’s King Edward III represents something of his idealized view of the precapitalist world of the Middle Ages. The force that drives Morris in The Earthly Paradise is a feeling of despair and hatred for the contemporary Victorian world, with its troubles and cares. Morris sees himself as a dreamer of dreams of other times. The lyrics in The Earthly Paradise that introduce each monthly section of tales record seasonal changes and describe the English landscape.

Earthly Paradise

Earthly Paradise. Imaginary place that is the object of the Norse wanderers’ desperate and hopeless quest, a place that evokes a mood that swings from melancholy to sensuous ease. Morris’s poem was enormously popular when it was published, probably because it offered a refuge from the ugliness, drabness, and tedium of industrial life in nineteenth century England.

The Earthly Paradise Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Boos, Florence Saunders. The Design of William Morris’ “The Earthly Paradise.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. An analysis of the literary design of The Earthly Paradise. Discusses the literary structure of the work, the influences and sources for the poems, and their critical reception.

Calhoun, Blue. The Pastoral Vision of William Morris: “The Earthly Paradise.” Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1975. Places The Earthly Paradise within the genre of the pastoral. This perspective reveals motifs that can be connected to Morris’ socialism and artistic endeavors.

Hodgson, Amanda. The Romances of William Morris. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. A study that examines why William Morris utilized the genre of romance as a vehicle to express his views. A chapter analyzes The Earthly Paradise as a romance within the context of Morris’ development of this literary form.

Skoblow, Jeffrey. Paradise Dislocated: Morris, Politics, Art. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. Sets The Earthly Paradise within the context of modernism and Marxism. Argues that The Earthly Paradise expresses a sense of estrangement or dislocation that is a part of modern culture.

Tompkins, J. M. S. William Morris: An Approach to the Poetry. London: Cecil Woolf, 1988. A complete study of the poetic works, including prose romances, written by William Morris. Two chapters are devoted to analysis of The Earthly Paradise, examining the tales particularly for what they reveal about Morris’ feelings about society and his life.