Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Worlds of John Ruskin

The Worlds of John Ruskin.
A review.
This is excellent book on a number of levels: as an introduction to a fascinatingly complex man, as a travel book, as a beautiful set of pictures, as a challenge to look again at Ruskin and other Victorians. Anyone who has enjoyed browsing through that old series, the World of, say Dickens, Joyce, the Brontes - illustrated guides written by fans, and full of info - will be pleased to find that Kevin Jackson has revived the brand and outdone it, but with first-rate colour visuals. He presents a balanced but personally committed account of Ruskin - he is a charming propagandist. But for anyone whose knowledge of Ruskin, like mine, went little further than the puzzling fact that he could admire both Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites, and then that thing about pubic hair (a libel, it seems from the evidence) Jackson offers a complex, troubled picture that is both more interesting and more disturbing, and that really does allow us to look back into worlds that are now alien to us. Jackson makes claims for Ruskin's contemporary influence that are convincing, but what makes this book particularly powerful is that you feel as you read further into it that you are in the presence of a rare, strange creature from a time so different from our own; in that way it really is a bit of a Gothic mystery. Having said that, it's a perfect present for a nice bookish uncle, artistic godchild or anyone who is heading to the Lakes, Venice and Northern Italy, the Alps, Oxford, Normandy - or South London; or for anyone who is interested in Gandhi, Proust (there's a great supporting cast of characters influenced by Ruskin) or just about any aspect of art and architecture. More and more Ruskin is in print, but, judging from the complex history of Ruskin's attitudes that Jackson outlines, you would do well to take in this broad view first, before he comes back into fashion.
To Buy Now. The Worlds of John Ruskin

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