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100Victorian Review Sheila Emerson. Ruskin: The Genesis of Invention. Cambridge UP, 1993. xiv + 274. $54.95 US (cloth). In Ruskin: The Genesis of Invention, Sheila Emerson has given Victorian scholarship the first book-length critical study of Ruskin's juvenilia. It goes beyond exploring Ruskin's early works; Emerson's book demonstrates the richly suggestive continuities between Ruskin's childhood writings and those of his maturity. While demonstrating the high quality of the early poems and letters, Emerson concentrates on showing how the artist develops, and how in Ruskin's case, the selfconscious adult autobiographer analyzes his own development. She draws impressive connections not only between the sometimes amusing, always precocious early works and Ruskin's memory of them in his beautiful (and famously inaccurate) autobiography Praeterita, but also to Ruskin's most admired achievements throughout the thirty-nine volumes. Divided into two parallel sections of four chapters each, the book devotes the first half to a chronological study of Ruskin's youthful successes', the second ranges more widely throughout Ruskin's long adult career, showing how Ruskin reinvents himself in his later work: The first part starts with the prodigiously inventive child who looks ahead to what he will achieve; the second part ends with the adult who looks to his past for proof that he is not and has never been inventive. Far from being a simple about face, Ruskin's reinvention of his genesis is a culmination and extension of the art that he mastered in his youth. (2) Emerson reveals how Ruskin's famous style and even his influential aesthetic principles grow out of this early playful experimentation. Rather than just demonstrating a course of organic development throughout his life, she shows how Ruskin's experience of his own artistic formation bears on his vision of the process of becoming an artist generally when he writes about others' lives and works. One of the real pleasures of this book is the attention it draws to the charming, funny, and often astonishingly able productions of Ruskin as a child prodigy. Even without Emerson's necessary and impressive thesis, her book would serve an important function merely in attracting notice to the quality and significance of Ruskin's early. . . . The book begins with Ruskin's first letter to his father composed before he could actually write. His mother recorded the four-year-old's dictation as he pretended to read aloud from his own baby scrawl. From that early start through his work in college, Emerson presents an astonishing array of Reviews101 scientific treatises, poetry, letters, and drawings by the young Ruskin, always through the lens of his own later understanding of their significance. Her analysis is never of his impressive juvenilia alone but rather an exploration of how Ruskin uses his brilliant childhood accomplishments to support his self-perceived inability to create art as a grown-up. Deeply attentive to Ruskin's relationship to die Romantics, Emerson is particularly sensitive to Ruskin's debt to Shelley and adds to the already well established links between Ruskin and Byron. Any book about the child as father of the man would be lost without serious focus on Wordsworth as well, which Emerson provides. Ruskin has long been classified as a Victorian Romantic; Emerson's book reminds us that Ruskin's devotion to nature is mediated always through his early reading of modern poets as well as modern painters. But in Ruskin's case, Emerson tells us, the child is the mother of the man. Emerson's discussion of gender in Ruskin's prose permeates the second half of the book, but appears most intensively in the chapter "The Gender of Invention." Drawing on the slowly increasing number of critical works that deal with "Ruskin's attitudes toward gender and sexuality," Emerson points out that "no sustained attention has yet been paid to their covert, circuitous and decisive effect on his development as a writer and on his sense of himself as an artist" (227). In this chapter come some of her most interesting and potentially controversial insights', for example, "outrage against or compassion for Ruskin's sexism and pedophilia have obscured the fact that his response to children is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 100-102
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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