John Ruskin Vol 2: The Later Years (John Ruskin : the Later Years)

Fifteen years after the publication of Tim Hilton's now-standard biography of Ruskin's life from 1819-1859 (John Ruskin: the Early Years) comes the much fatter concluding volume; and it is just as accomplished and elegantly written. In the first volume Hilton expressed his view that after 1860 Ruskin was "a finer writer and a better man" and this book goes quite a long way towards convincing the reader of the value of that judgement. Hilton doesn't quite pull it off, though. Ultimately, it is hard to agree with the opinion that Fors Clavigera is "Ruskin's masterpiece". Hilton himself allows that "this preference is not easy to justify or explain" and that despite a life among bookish people "I have never met anyone in my life, apart from a few professional Ruskin scholars, who had read more than a dozen pages of Fors Clavigera".It is one of Hilton's projects in this biography to bring this series of 96 interrelated pamphlets out of obscurity. They have an obvious biographical usefuless; published from 1871 to 1878 they do illuminate the events of Ruskin's life during that busy decade. But Hilton doesn't convince that they have the literary power or impact of Modern Painters or The Stones of Venice.

The great personal story in this half of Ruskin's life is his passion for Rose La Touche, a girl he first met and fell in love with when she was 10 years old. He was close to her for years, proposing marriage as she reached 18, but her parents' opposition and her own intensely evangelical religious beliefs prevented the union. The love affair has a tragic drift, as Rose's mental instability and her savage mood-swings descended into madness and death at the age of 27. As with the story of Ruskin's doomed marriage from the first volume this is a tale that needs to be handled sensitively if it isn't to become merely lurid; and Hilton's sympathetic tact allied to a comprehensive approach does it justice. It is hard to imagine Ruskin's life being treated any better than this. --Adam Roberts

art history, biography, Conduct of life, lake district, Ruskin, social theory, Victorian England
T Hilton
Yale University Press

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