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John Ruskin and the Literary Life

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October 11, 2016

Obviously, there are many ways of thinking about the literary life. For most of us, living the literary life is a passive experience consisting primarily of reading Great Literature for pleasure and thinking about matters literary. Some of us study and write about Great Literature. Many of us are content with leading a sedentary life, dwelling in our studies at home or visiting great libraries the way others visit famous art galleries. Then we have the John Ruskins of the world, people who change world attitudes, who write some of the most profound studies of literature in history. These are the people who write based upon incredible amounts of reading and study. Let’s look back at John Ruskin.

The Victorian Age in England (1837-1901) was an era in which a number of writers could make claim to being a dominant figure of their generation. One such figure was Ruskin, the literary, art, architecture, and cultural critic. His lush and rhythmical prose style makes even some of his more erudite works readable and memorable.

So often writers of even more recent times than Ruskin’s are unreadable today because their ideas and their writing styles simply date their work out of interest to any but scholars and pedants. But Ruskin’s ideas, controversial in his time, remain fresh today, still relevant, and often still influential.

In the last few weeks I posted two anecdotes in my First Impressions series of young Ruskin’s coming of age. Let’s start looking at this great man of letters and a few of his ideas.

Here is one of those people who lived out the literary life fully if not without personal turmoil.

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Paul Varner


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