From time-to-time, as WhyRuskin has made its way through our cyberworld, the story of Ruskin’s life has come up. Intentionally, I’ve never waded very deeply into its (often) swirling waters for the simple reason that the goals of this website have been, from its outset, two: a continuing demonstration of Ruskin’s enduring brilliance and, in that light, of his enduring relevance to vital issues that continue to concern or bedevil us in the complex, often difficult, world in which we live.
Throughout this time, however, and indeed for a considerable amount of time prior, I have often worn another Ruskin hat, doing, over the course of now slightly more than two decades, more than a little work on his life-story, work intent on, for the most part, correcting common misconceptions, some of them gross misconceptions, of that story. For reasons explained on the new WhyRuskin Page announced to-day, the work I have done on his life has now coalesced in such a way that it makes sense to me to share, in a single place, the insights it has made possible, most of these being at wide variance with what I call the “Myth of Ruskin,” a series of misinterpretations which, unfortunately, are still alive and, as has always been the case, unwell.
To visit this new Page, scroll up to the banner at the top of this page. Underneath the pictures, you’ll find a list of the site’s Pages, one of which is “Ruskin’s Life: A Radical Revision.” If you click on that, you’ll be taken to my introductory remarks telling you what’s on the Page and explaining why it is worth, or so I believe, some of your valuable time. The remarks provide a brief introductory summary for each of the five essays and one book I’ve published on Ruskin’s life.
The first two explain why, as a whole, Ruskin biographies have erred as significantly as they have (and, thereby, contributing, however unintentionally, to the “Myth of Ruskin.” The third systematically analyzes the causes of his mental illness, finding that these were created not by a genetic predilection to instability (a common misconception) but by untoward life experiences that, as time advanced, unhinged him. The fourth undertakes, for the first time, a similar analysis of his sexuality, a subject fraught with unsubstantiated accusations of his presumed perversion, particularly when it came to his relations with young girls; it finds that there is no evidence worthy of the name to substantiate such castigations, and provides an explanation of how these originated. The fifth explains the whereabouts of the bulk of the original documents that future writers must consult if a truly comprehensive “life of Ruskin” is ever to see the light of day; most of these are preserved in institutions in the United States. Finally, the book tells in detail the story of the scholar who first understood that Ruskin’s life story had been misrepresented and who had, as a result of that insight dedicated the remainder of her life to writing a “definitive life” which never would be published.
At the end of the summary for each essay, I’ve included a link to a PDF version of it. Clicking on that will make it possible for you to read the essay in its entirety. Lastly, there is a place on the Page where you can send me comments. I will be glad to read these and respond in due course.
I hope you will find the Page interesting and, much more importantly, useful in revising any prior and erroneous views you may have been exposed to concerning Ruskin’s life.
Let me know what you think.
In the meantime, be well out there!
Regular Posts on WhyRuskin resume later this week.