Svend and his Brethren

William Morris

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Short story

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


The setting of Wiliam Morris’s “Svend and his Brethren” is deliberately ambiguous, in both time (the opening sentence sets the story simply “in the olden time”) and place. Like most of Morris’s tales in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, this story has a distinct medieval flavor.

What most sets this story apart from the other tales in the Magazine is the last few paragraphs. Though it is certainly moving and original, there is nothing particularly striking in the story of Suir, Cissela, and Svend, and had Morris ended the story with the brothers’ ships drawing westward away from the harbor, this would seem just another medieval story. But rather than ending here, Morris attributes the previous story to “William the Englishman”, and goes on to give the account of “a certain chronicler”, who tells how, 550 years later, descendants of Svend and his knights, traveling eastward, return to the kingdom to find all as it was the moment the ships left: the blood on the ground still wet, the wounded still standing where they were left. The last sentence of the story reads “And I John who wrote this history saw all this with mine own eyes,” clearly echoing Revelations 22.8, “And I John saw these things, and heard them”. This ending adds a new dimension to the story that precedes it, retroactively instilling the narrative with both historical and biblical overtones.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , August, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: Morris012.raw.xml