Thursday, May 14, 2009

ruskinizing, with summer approaching

The house has returned to some semblance of health. I'm always the last one at healing, & still have a bit of a sniffle & an irritating cough, but for the most part am feeling around 75%, if not better. The Florida summer is close at hand, I can tell: we've begun the daily round of drenching thunderstorms, & the heat & humidity (after a long rather mild spell) are starting to kick in in their usual unbearability.
Well, I'm deep into the 2nd volume of the Library Edition of Ruskin, the one consisting entirely of his poetry. Sigh. For a chap who figured out by his mid-20s that he was a poet only in prose, it seems a damned shame that JR managed to crank out over 500 pages of the stuff.

Volume I, Early Prose Writings, proved unexpectedly pleasurable. Really very much a ragbag of juvenilia. Aside from The Poetry of Architecture, the volume includes a number of occasional notes & essays (including a school theme stoutly defending Sir Walter Scott, Bulwer-Lytton, & Byron as not morally depraving to young minds & an essay on the comparative merits of painting & music, written to impress a young woman), a longish run of letters to an Oxford chum, & the whole of Ruskin's fictional oeuvre: the perennially popular – & actually rather good – fairy tale "The King of the Golden River"; "Leoni," a dreadful short story written in abject imitation of Sir Walter; and the abortive beginnings of a novel, if anything more in thrall to the Laird of Abbotsford – and to his worst aspects, I fear. Scott's novels have infamously slow starts, leisurely-unfolded frame narratives within frame narratives, so that it's sometimes 30 or 40 pages before the actual story gets underway. The frame narrative of The Chronicle of St. Bernard is really the only bit of his own novel that Ruskin manages to finish. (The title, like Scott's Chronicles of the Canongate, refers to the frame narrative – the Alpine hostel where the story proper, which is set in Venice, gets told.) As soon as he's a chapter into the actual narrative, Ruskin seems to have abandoned the whole thing as a bad job.

The poetry – well, what to say about the poetry? It's very competent, in its relentless but tame aping of Keats, Byron, Shelley. It's very earnest, & not very funny. Ruskin, it seems, had by his early 20s made a name for himself as one of the most popular "annual" poets of the nation – you know, those gigantic coffee-table volumes, chock-full of poems, essays, & stories, all carefully calibrated not to offend the most morally sensitive members of the family, which were marketed as Christmas presents on a yearly basis. I'm not sure I'll have a lot to say about Ruskin's verse; the 120 pages or so I've traversed have yet to yield a single line that sticks in my head.
Turning over the pages of Gay Daly's potboiler-with-academic-pretensions, Pre-Raphaelites in Love, & eagerly awaiting books in the mail: a scholarly study of P-R painting techniques, a collection of Jeff Jones artwork, & an illustrated biography of Jane Morris, she of all those Rossetti paintings. Oh, what hair!

[Jane Morris]


E. M. Selinger said...

So, nu, how about a donation to IASPR in honor of Ruskin and...


Never mind.

Maybe for a Pre-Raph or two in lurve?

E. M. Selinger said...

Oh, btw--SSW is back. Not much to it yet, but once I get past this six-week march, who knows?