Ms. MacCarthy's superbly thorough and elegantly written life of Morris (1834- 1896) is a very large book--legitimately so, for Morris was a very large man. He was born to money and the uppermost levels of the Victorian middle class, and although he never objected to money, he early repudiated piety and antimacassars to join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was a painter, a poet, a novelist, a translator of old Icelandic literature, an expert admirer of early Gothic architecture, and an influential advocate of individual craftsmanship, as opposed to the mass production of the Industrial Age. Craftsmanship led him into the design and production of fabrics, furniture, wallpaper, embroideries, and books. He learned to be an expert dyer. He developed ideas, still current, on land conservation and the dangers of air and water pollution. As an angler, he was versified by his friend Rossetti: "Enter Skald, moored in a punt, / And Jacks and Tenches exeunt." Morris eventually became an enthusiastic socialist, joining the medley of rich radicals, adventurous intellectuals, and working-class protesters which constituted "that mix of class and culture that has given British socialism such a bizarre character." Socialism put a strain on Morris's long friendship with Edward Burne-Jones, who was painting his way to a knighthood, but not on that with Georgiana Burne-Jones (Rudyard Kipling's aunt), who lavished tea, buns, and socialist exhortations on baffled Devonshire farmers. Ms. MacCarthy does not ignore Morris's faults, which included an alarming temper, but the reader cannot fail to share her admiration and affection for his extraordinary energy and versatility. The book is generously and intelligently illustrated with photographs, color plates, and Burne-Jones's roly-poly caricatures. Morris was, in addition to his other outsize qualities, definitely stout.
by F. Gonzalez-Crussi, photographs by Rosamond Purcell.
Harcourt Brace, 160 pages, $16.00.
Dr. Gonzalez-Crussi is a professor of pathology and understandably interested in "the preservation of bodily parts." His widely learned, quietly witty essays on this subject range from his confusion, as a young intern in a Catholic hospital, over the proper treatment of "products of conception" to the elaborate wax anatomical models created in the eighteenth century. The subject matter may be somewhat arcane, but Dr. Gonzalez-Crussi makes it both interesting and relevant to current discussions on medical research. Ms. Purcell's handsome and eerie photographs parallel but do not illustrate the text.
The History of Danish Dreams
by Peter Hoeg, translated by Barbara Haveland.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 356 pages, $24.00.
"Or Notions of the Twentieth Century" is the alternative title of Mr. Hoeg's novel. The tale is a semi-fantastic, semi-burlesque family saga in which the author presents a mad nobleman who preserves the feudal past by stopping his clocks, an illiterate but successful newspaper publisher, thieves too kindhearted to steal anything worth the trouble, a preacher who reduces his flock to such unworldly gloom that they paint their houses black, and a positive procession of equally daft residents of the country that Mr. Ho/eg describes, in one of his frequent and mischievous personal intrusions into his fiction, as "the most unhinged place in the history of the world." At bottom the novel is grim social satire, but the surface is surprising, steadily inventive, and highly amusing.