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Dickens and John Ruskin

January 17, 2012

I am beginning to attempt and figure out the best way to work John Ruskin, a Victorian whom I admire greatly, into this ongoing web project. Obviously, Ruskin would have to find his way into a research page. I am also going to need to read a lot more Ruskin, which is something I’ve been wanting to do anyway. So far, in my scanning the index of Dickens’ collected letters I have not had a ton of success (nearly all references to Ruskin were in the editor’s notes); however, I plan on giving the letters a closer examination in the near future.

By the same token, most of the references to Dickens’ in the works of Ruskin that I have come across have been a bit biting, though generally limited to specific works rather than the man himself or his entire canon. However in Praeterita Ruskin speaks to the escapist aspect (if we can call it that) of reading Dickens.

“As a caricaturist, both in the studied development of his own manner, and that of his illustrative etchings, he put himself out of the pale of great authors; so that he never became an educational element of my life, but only one of it’s chief comforts and restoratives” (269).

I’m not sure which way the scales tip here: slight or compliment? What leads me to my next connection he is the “caricaturist” label. This a label that one of Ruskin’s biographers, John D. Rosenberg, relieves Dickens of in the book The Darkening Glass.

“Dickens was not a caricaturist but the sternest of realists;in the vast, lucrative mounds of ordure that all levels of society connive to possess in Our Mutual Friend, he saw the symbol of the same perverted waste of human energies, the same preference for gold over life that Ruskin decried in Unto This Last” (123).

This is exactly what I have had in mind;in fact, I have a nice fresh copy of “Unto This Last” coming today from UPS (so that I can mark heck out of it in ink). I see a ton of overlap between the social concerns of the two men ( Ruskin could easily be called an agrarian communist), so should be exciting to see where this goes.

Rosenberg, John D. The Darkening Glass:A Portrait of Ruskin’s Genius. New York: Columbia University Press,

Ruskin, John. Praeterita. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.


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  1. This sounds like a great research project. I will be eager to read your findings as I am going to do my second research project page on the illustrators that contributed to the work of Dickens. I hope our projects will complement each other 🙂

  2. OMF! I love the Ruskin/Dickens thing with “Unto this Last” (published serially or in parts to start, I believe)… I can’t remember now. I read it as an undergrad but don’t remember much about it, just that it exists! Looking forward to seeing more as you do!

    • Yes, Unto This Last was published in parts. Fors Clavigera was even more “serial” and explicitly aimed at the lower class audience that publishing medium suggests. And then, Modern Painters was of course publish in volumes. Maybe more of a stretch there, but could certainly be something in it altogether.

  3. I don’t know much about Ruskin but I’m looking forward to your work with him & Dickens. Interested to see how you make the comparison…can’t wait!

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