- Persistent Ruskin: Studies in Influence, Assimilation and Effect ed. by Keith Hanley and Brian Maidment
In the introductory essay to Ashgate’s recent volume Persistent Ruskin: Studies in Influence, Assimilation and Effect, editors Keith Hanley and Brian Maidment remind us that Ruskin “rejoiced in the charge that he contradicted himself” and identify a “positive uncertainty” as being emblematic of his thinking (4). Slippery, sometimes self-contradictory, always multi-faceted [End Page 185] inquiry characterizes Ruskin’s vast output. Consequently, locating his critical and intellectual legacy is all the more challenging, like tracing the refractions from an already diffuse and indefinable light source. The challenge holds an undeniable appeal to current scholars, it seems: this collection of essays, which grew out of a series of colloquia sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK, comes on the heels of After Ruskin, Stuart Eagles’s 2011 investigation of Ruskin’s influence on social and political thought. Expanding their examination to encompass Ruskin’s aesthetic theories, the editors of Persistent Ruskin face the task of bringing coherence to a diverse collection of essays about the influences stemming from the multifarious interests of a mercurial thinker. Remarkably, the collection succeeds not through a flattening of the textures of Ruskin’s thought but rather through an interweaving of his various ideas as they are transformed in later contexts.
The volume is divided into three sections: the first concerns the audiences that Ruskin addressed most directly during his lifetime; the second takes a broader view of his reception both by contemporaries and twentieth-century figures; and the third expands the inquiry into his influence between continents, languages, and even (fictional) planets. Uniting the parts, however, is the wide-ranging focus of the various contributions, which will appeal to readers with interdisciplinary inclinations. Lawrence Goldman’s contribution, for example, provides a meticulous historical treatment of Ruskin’s lack of resonance among the working classes during the 1860s and 1870s and his rise in popularity in the 1890s, when he had mentally declined. As a print historian, Maidment brings insight into the ways that Ruskin’s absent presence is felt in three Ruskinian periodicals from the turn of the century: the Ruskin Reading Guild Journal (1889), Igdrasil (1890–92), and St. George (1898–1911). In the field of fine-art education, Melissa Renn delivers a historical account of Ruskinian influence in Harvard’s Fine Arts Department as introduced by Charles Herbert Moore, whose techniques of “deep seeing” stood in contrast to those of his rival, William Morris Hunt, champion of Impressionism at “Barbizon Boston” (146). From a literary perspective, and with a focus on science-fiction utopias, Tony Pinkney’s “Ruskin, Morris and the Terraforming of Mars” identifies Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy as a literary representation of Ruskin’s ideals of unalienated labour.
A primary strength of the volume lies in the reflections it offers on standard chestnuts of Ruskin scholarship and the attention it brings to new areas of consideration. Francis O’Gorman’s “Did Ruskin Support the Pre-Raphaelites?,” for instance, takes as its basis a question that, admittedly, first appears to be absurd. Despite sounding like a speculative venture, however, O’Gorman’s desire to account for the “inner motivations” (91) behind Ruskin’s support of the prb results in a compelling analysis, particularly for anyone who, like myself, has been puzzled by the discrepancies between the prb and the ideals that Ruskin ascribes to them. Framing the critic’s involvement with the prb through what might be called an inverted anxiety of influence, the essay [End Page 186] suggests that Ruskin’s valorization of the group derives from his own anxiety that his previous attempts to guide his audience prophetically (in his praise of Turner) had failed. His praise, then represents his attempt to craft a legacy of influence by retroactively turning the Pre-Raphaelites into Ruskinians. Complementing such innovative approaches to familiar territory are explorations of lesser-known areas of Ruskinian influence, as when Hanley links Ruskin’s influence...