Book: John Ruskin: Volume 2. The Later Years

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John Ruskin

Series: Volume 2. The Later Years
Author: Tim Hilton
Publisher: Yale University Press

Following on from the first volume of his life of Ruskin, this second volume covers the years 1860 until his death in 1900. John Ruskin (1819-1900) is perhaps best known for his books on art criticism, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1853), but his contribution as an artist is significant as well. In fact, his landscapes and portraits, with their wildness and organic energy, echo many of his critical ideas. Ruskin disliked classicism’s symmetry and order, preferring the rougher qualities of Gothic art. Likewise, he rejected machine-produced goods which he considered ‘dishonest,’ advocating craftsmanship. He came to be associated with the Arts & Crafts movement, along with William Morris. Ruskin founded a utopian arts and crafts community, putting his theory into practice.


Beginning in 1859, the second volume of Tim Hilton’s sterling biography of John Ruskin chronicles much suffering and sadness, as well as spiritual and artistic growth. The deaths of his beloved parents, in 1864 and 1871, snapped Ruskin out of self-indulgence and a tendency to complain. His love for Rose La Touche, only 9 years old when he met her in 1858 and appalled when he declared his feelings in 1866, would last throughout this morbidly pious girl’s lingering illness and beyond her death in 1875. He had bouts of mental illness that finally incapacitated him in the decade before his death in 1900. Yet these were also the years in which Ruskin wrote his fascinating autobiography, Praeterita, and the innovative Fors Clavigera. Hilton believes this series of 96 pamphlets addressed to British workers to be Ruskin’s masterpiece, a revelation of “the continuing life of the mind” as their author ranged from Dante to the English Poor Laws to the iconography of the penny. Hilton discusses these and the underlying themes of Ruskin’s life with remarkable clarity and an impressive range of knowledge. He enables modern readers to decipher the idiosyncratic thoughts and feelings of a great Victorian who was “a glory of the nation’s literature, and an important part of its social conscience.” —Wendy Smith

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