- A Guide to Ruskin's Legacies
Taking its place amongst the hundreds of articles, chapters, and books published in the past decade on the great Victorian art critic and social thinker John Ruskin, Stuart Eagles's study offers an accessible and important introduction to the significance of Ruskin's "call for social action" to various institutions between 1870 and 1920. Whilst by Eagles's own admittance the book is not a major intervention in the field (following works on related topics by P. D. Anthony, Dinah Birch and Gill Cockram amongst others), his focus on the ways institutions, rather than individuals, were affected and inspired by Ruskin nevertheless offers a different approach to the fascinating topic of his social and political legacies. Throughout the book, Eagles manages to capture the protean nature of Ruskin and convincingly explains the pervasiveness of his influence in the period. After Ruskin is historically rigorous and wide-ranging, drawing on evidence from detailed archival research, notable for its clear structure and elegant style, making it useful for academics and undergraduates alike.
The first chapter relates the basics of Ruskin's political beliefs, his major ideas and philosophies. To an audience familiar with his work this may seem unnecessary or repetitive, particularly given the numerous publications offering readings of Ruskin's economic and social theories. However this early groundwork serves to contextualize Eagles's central concerns, providing the backdrop to his explanation of why Ruskin's social and political agendas had such broad appeal. Highlighting Ruskin's most significant essays in relation to the issue of political economy, Eagles ends the chapter by asserting that Ruskin developed "a new culture and language" which would influence a varied spectrum of institutions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [End Page 404]
This focus on institutions begins in chapter two, as the influence of Ruskin's Guild of St. George and its Companions on other organizations is analyzed. Though generally structured quite clearly, the short sections on "Guild Women" and "The Guild after Ruskin" feel a little disconnected from the main body of the text, resembling interesting asides rather than offering significant support to the central contentions. The most engaging parts of the chapter are Eagles's reflections on three case studies: the Guild's aborted experiment in rural regeneration at Totley, the unsuccessful attempt to produce commercially viable material at St. George's Mill, and the foundered plans for St. George's Museum. Eagles manages to extract the positive lasting impacts that these failed efforts had on other organizations that followed. The success of Charles Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft, the two quality linen ventures under Albert Fleming and Marian Twelves, and the professionalized Ruskin Museum at Meersbrook Park are all used as evidence to show how Ruskin's ideas were later turned into practical, workable enterprises by some of the Guild Companions.
In chapter three, Eagles argues quite clearly that Ruskin's influence was "responsible for a continuity of ideas which ultimately helped to lay the foundations for many of the municipal and national social reforms of the first decades of the twentieth century." Locating this argument in his analysis of the Hinksey road-diggings and its impacts on pioneering social advances at Oxford, Manchester and London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the analysis here becomes more complex and intricate than in the previous two chapters. Eagles manages to offer biographical information on many of the individuals involved without losing sight of their importance as members of various institutions. In the chapter, connections are made between the Hinksey diggings, university settlements, Horsfall's Manchester-based Art Museum, and the establishment of Toynbee Hall as a site for social research and practical skills classes. Whilst Eagles acknowledges that these often began as separate ventures, he also shows how the relationships between different institutions, and the formal merging of others (such as the Manchester University Settlement and Art Museum) turned some of Ruskin's social and political theories into localized realities.
Eagles sets up chapter...