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Reviews Dinah Birch and Francis O'Gorman, eds. Ruskin andGender. (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2002), xiii + 211 pp. The revival of academic interest in Ruskin in the 1960s was centred in die University ofOxford - Ruskin's almamater- and across a number ofuniversities in America, where individual scholars contributed to a fresh evaluation of one of the Grand Old Men of Victorian letters. Thirty years later, Lancaster University's Ruskin Programme provided a further boost to research activity that was by now trulyworld-wide in scope, as Ruskin the polymath invited interdisciplinary study of the kind that the modern academy had come to favour. British celebrations of the centenary ofRuskin's death, in the year 2000, were co-ordinated by a national committee, and included an important international exhibition at the Tate Gallery. Yet the coundess new discoveries and perceptions that have emerged from all this work have failed to reach a wider educated public, to which Ruskin remains a strange, ifbrilliant Victorian who never consummated his marriage and who eventually went mad. It is a pity that Ruskin andGenderwill not reach that wider readership, as the book opens up further fascinating areas ofhis career as a writer and teacher. For at the core ofthis group of essays by some ofthe leading practitioners in the field is the chameleon figure who has been the subject ofnumerous discussions between Ruskin scholars in recent years - the Ruskin whose public persona andprivate personality seem to metamorphose with the changing emotional and intellectual environment that each new day, and each new correspondent or audience brings, and who moves, sometimes with baffling rapidity, between masculine and feminine identities. Dr. Dinah Birch has made important contributions to modern Ruskin studies at each stage of their revival, and, in competitive rowing terms, her two chapters in this book come from the "engine-room," in the middle ofthe boat "Ruskin's Womanly Mind' " was first published in Essaysin Criticism in 1988, and was something of a watershed: here was a woman critic revising Kate Millett's negative view ofRuskin in that seminal study, SexualPotiticsi (1970). "As Victorian Review111 Reviews feminist criticism has grown in maturity and scope," Birch writes, "it has begun to establish ways in which reading Ruskin from the perspective ofgender can reaffirm his significance and value." Her second essay reminds us ofone of the Sage ofBrantwood's most useful and tangible contributions: " *What Teachers Do You Give Your Girls?': Ruskin and Women's Education." Francis O'Gorman, Birch's co-editor, is the cox, carefully steering the collection through the choppy waters ofRuskin biography with an opening essay on "Manliness and the History ofRuskin in Love: Writing Ruskin's Masculinity from W.G. Collingwood to Kate Millett." As Birch points out, "Ruskin's writing grows out ofhis life." The problem, however, is which life? Which biographer are we to believe? O'Gorman deftly shows how Ruskin's early admirers, anxious to correct the impression that their hero was not fully a man, constructed a manly Ruskin who, ironically, later provided the women's movement with an easy target Today, he argues, we need to recognise this tradition of "normative Victorian manliness" and, "in naming it, to begin to defuse its power." This is what the other essayists set out to achieve, through a variety ofapproaches applied to a wide range of subject-matter. Rowing at stroke isJ. B. Bullen, whose essay on "Ruskin, Gautier, and the Feminization ofVenice" sets the pace for his colleagues, as he relates some stimulating broader commentary on Venice and eroticism to the particular, sad case ofJohn and Effie Ruskin during the long winters ofthe making of TheStones ofVenice. Catherine Robson focuses upon the paedophilia surrounding The Ethics ofthe Dustin "The Stones ofChildhood: Ruskin's 'LostJewels'," while Lindsay Smith discusses Ruskin's botanical studies and metaphors in Praeterita (his fragmentary autobiography) in "The Foxglove and the Rose: Ruskin's Involute ofChildhood." The key text for feminist study is SesameandUlies, re-examined here by Linda H. Peterson in "The Feminist Origins of 'Of Queens' Gardens'." Up in the bow, and furthest from the cox, are three miscellaneous but nevertheless interesting contributions. Joseph Bristow considers 112volume 29 number 1 Reviews the problematic "homosocial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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