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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

The Sundering Flood is the last of a series of heroic fantasies that William Morris wrote during the final decade of his life. In it, he dramatized the democratic ideal toward which he worked in his public role as spokesman for the Socialist League. This ideal is visible from the...

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The Sundering Flood is the last of a series of heroic fantasies that William Morris wrote during the final decade of his life. In it, he dramatized the democratic ideal toward which he worked in his public role as spokesman for the Socialist League. This ideal is visible from the novel’s beginning, when, even though he is the youngest member of the household, Osberne’s keen sense and bravery earn him the position of family spokesman. That is not to say that there is unanimity; one man, known as Surly John, speaks out against him but is shouted down by the rest. Surly John is never punished for his opposition, illustrating Morris’ view that democracy must be founded on tolerance.

Later, when trouble threatens, the people hold a Thing-Mote or town meeting to select Osberne as their war leader. This is not a position Osberne seeks, but the will of the people and his own recognition of his ability are too strong for him to decline. A strict democrat might protest against the “tyranny of the majority” visible in this election, but not when the minority consists only of Surly John.

The final articulation of the democratic spirit is made visible in the City of the Sundering Flood, where an unjust king is driven out by an alliance of small craftsmen, local husbandmen, and Sir Godrick’s loose band of free knights. The people choose a town council dominated by the crafts guilds, which in turn elects a Burgreve or town sheriff. As with Osberne in his home country, Sir Godrick is elected as the city’s protector.

One of the most brilliant aspects of The Sundering Flood is Morris’ absolute consistency in maintaining Osberne’s point of view. Many adventure sagas wander continually from one event to another, relating them to one another only by chronology. In this book, the reader learns only what the hero learns as he learns it. Elfhild’s travails, which take place many miles from the hero’s viewpoint, are never described directly; rather, they are recounted to Osberne and the assembled household at Wethermel on the couple’s return home to the Dale. Thus, the tale performs the narrative function of informing the reader at the same time that it performs the dramatic function of introducing Elfhild to her new family. The suspense and verisimilitude that are created by this technique greatly increase the pleasure of reading the book.

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