Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern

Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern

Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern

Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern

Synopsis

This interdisciplinary collection of original essays reconsiders John Ruskin's legacy, suggesting that the vigour and vitality of his late work played an important role in shaping the twentieth-century mind. The contributors have focused on such diverse areas as Ruskin's thinking on music, his impact on social reform policies and the British Labour movement, his influence on scientific and artistic education, the complexities of his relationship with aestheticism, and on his writing in Fors Clavigera. Together, the essays expose the extraordinarily pervasive influence that Ruskin's work had on central cultural debates of the late Victorian era. Moreover, they overturn received assumptions about Ruskin's significance in the dawning of the modern sensibility.

Excerpt

DINAH BIRCH

In recent years, the study of Ruskin has been transformed. A prominent factor has been the revaluation of his later writing. The works that followed the celebrated books of his youth and middle age used often to be slighted. They were cited as evidence of a great mind's decline into eccentricity. All that has changed. They are now increasingly likely to be prized for their literary and intellectual innovation. Modern scholarship has revealed the complexity of Ruskin's relations with late Victorian culture. The sustained creativity with which he responded to change has become apparent.

1869 may be seen as a turning point in his life. It was the year of his election to Oxford's first Slade Professorship of Fine Art -- his first public appointment. In the same year, he turned 50. His life began again in many ways. Alongside his Oxford lectures, in January 1871 he started to publish Fors Clavigera, his monthly series of Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain. In the letter for August 1871, he announced the foundation of the St George's Fund, soon to become the Guild of St George. In the same month, he bought Brantwood, the house overlooking Coniston Water in the Lake District that was subsequently to become his home. His mother died in December 1871, and he sold the family home on Denmark Hill. These were the years in which Ruskin published his scientific texts. Love's; Meinie, on ornithology, came out in 1873-81; Proserpina, on botany, in 1875-86; Deucalion, on geology, in 1875-83. Together they constitute an extraordinary challenge to scientific orthodoxy The same years saw successive series of lectures on art at Oxford, and letters for the continuing series of Fors Clavigera (1871- 84). Alongside these commitments, Ruskin published his thoughts on Turner, on Venice, on prosody, on music, on myth, and finally his autobiography, Praeterita (1886-9).

His refusal to limit himself to any single field of thought lies at the heart of his project as a mature critic. But it also became an important reason for the decline of his reputation in the twentieth century. Specialization and professionalization had come to dominate scholarship.

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