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JOHN RUSKIN by John Batchelor Kirkus Star


A Life

by John Batchelor

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7867-0814-X

A lucid, concise biography of Ruskin’s troubled life and a penetrating criticism of his major work.

This year being the centenary of Ruskin’s death, many publishers are churning out books on his life and the intellectual impact of his writings. Batchelor’s (English/Univ. of Newcastle) study is among the finest of these as an invaluable single-volume introduction to Ruskin’s life, times, and writing. He approaches Ruskin’s voluminous work by analyzing his troubled relationship with his parents, arguing that Ruskin’s oppressively domineering family created a son who depended on them entirely for emotional support and maximized his prodigious intellectual talents out of a sense of familial duty. The author demonstrates that Ruskin’s dependence on his parents permanently scarred his personal life, leaving him torn between honoring parental authority and yearning for adult independence. He argues that this emotional conflict resulted in the dissolution of Ruskin’s marriage (on the grounds of impotence) and the destructive mental illnesses he suffered late in life. On the other hand, Batchelor suggests that this same tension productively fueled Ruskin’s visionary forays into Romanticism as he searched for a path that would reconcile his tortured life with his Victorian culture. This shrewd approach serves its subject well: it elevates Ruskin’s social thought, thereby presenting his personal life more tragically. Throughout, Batchelor sustains his arguments with elegant prose that succeeds in bringing Ruskin to life.

An in-depth resource for current Ruskin scholars, and excellent introduction to the thoughts of this crucial 19th century artistic and social thinker. (8 pp. b&w photos, 8 pp. color photos)