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Light, Dark, and Grey: Representation of Hero in William Morris’s The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs

Authors
  • Su, Minjie1
  • 1 University of Oxford, Linacre College, St Cross Road, Oxford, UK , Oxford (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Neophilologus
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Sep 24, 2018
Volume
103
Issue
1
Pages
129–143
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11061-018-9575-7
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

Acclaimed and influential, the pre-Raphaelite artist and author William Morris’s long narrative poem The Story of Sigurd and the Fall of the Niblungs (1876) fits, at first sight, the Victorian interpretation of the Old Norse world. It is essentially a world deprived of the original context, where the heroes were re-moulded within the contemporary frame. However, as the story goes, Sigurd’s life gradually drifts away from that of a Victorian conventional hero: unlike other Old-Norse-made-Victorian heroes preceding him, he fell prey to the power of the dark—the Niblungs or ‘the Cloudy people’. In this case, is he still a hero? If yes, what sort of hero will he be? It is the goal of this paper to address these questions. They will be approached through three successive steps: the first part will introduce the image of the Victorian Old Norse heroes in general as representations of light in contrast to absolute darkness, represented by the two Baldur-themed narrative poems from the 1860s. In the second, Sigurd’s rise and fall as a conventional Victorian hero will be examined through analysing a series of key events in his life. At last, it will be argued that, instead of being a symbol of perfect light, Sigurd is essentially a hero of the grey—a compromise between the idealised and the real, which accords with Morris’s own life experience and perception of heroism.

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