In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Ruskin

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works
  • Biographies
  • Editions
  • Anthologies
  • Letters and Diaries
  • Essay Collections
  • Journals
  • Aesthetics
  • Architecture
  • Gender
  • Sexuality and Psychoanalysis
  • Myth and Religion
  • Science
  • Economics
  • Theater and Music
  • Education
  • The Pre-Raphaelites
  • Art Exhibition Catalogues and Checklist
  • Comparative Studies
  • Reception and Influence

Victorian Literature John Ruskin
Sharon Aronofsky Weltman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0060


Best known as a theorist, critic, and historian of visual culture, John Ruskin (1819–1900) wrote prolifically and influentially about a wide array of other topics. He championed the eminent English landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, inspired and provided the theoretical basis for both the Pre-Raphaelite and the Arts and Crafts movements, helped to promote the Gothic revival in building, and infamously reviewed James Whistler so insultingly that he provoked a lawsuit. An excellent artist in his own right, in recent years his vivid watercolors and finely executed drawings have been shown in numerous exhibitions. He is equally recognized as a social critic for his efforts to benefit the working class and to rethink the structure of society on more just principles. He is often quoted as both a conservative and a progressive voice in the “Woman Question” debate, defending separate spheres while promoting women’s education. Having coined the term “pathetic fallacy,” Ruskin is of course also significant to the history of literary criticism and theory. Just as acute an observer of the natural world as of the aesthetic, Ruskin was an active member of the Geological Society. He wrote such impassioned eco-criticism that he is thirtieth of the top one hundred “green campaigners of all time” (The Guardian, 28 November 2006). He is widely regarded as one of the greatest prose stylists in the 19th century; in particular, his autobiography Praeterita (1885–1889) is held to be among the most beautiful examples of Victorian life-writing. His other major works include Modern Painters (1843–1860), The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), The King of the Golden River (1851), The Stones of Venice (1851–1853), Unto this Last (1860), Sesame and Lilies (1865), The Queen of the Air (1869), Fors Clavigera (1871–1878;1880–1884), Fiction Fair and Foul (1880–1881), and The Bible of Amiens (1884).

General Overviews

In addition to the book-length general overviews mentioned here, the introductions to various editions and anthologies of Ruskin’s writing are also very helpful, and have the advantage of brevity. In particular, Birch 2009 is clear, engaging, and authoritative. Also brief is O’Gorman 1999; older but still excellent is Landow 1985, available online as part of the exemplary Ruskin entry on the Victorian Web. The best single book to read on Ruskin is Rosenberg 1986. Beautifully written, it is largely responsible for reviving critical interest in Ruskin in the second half of the 20th century. Both Nineteenth-Century Contexts and Nineteenth-Century Prose have devoted special issues to Ruskin.

  • Aronofsky Weltman, Sharon, ed. Special Issue on John Ruskin. Nineteenth-Century Prose 35.1 (Spring 2008).

    Ten essays by both preeminent and emerging scholars, (Elizabeth Helsinger, Alison Milbank, David Hanson, Francis O’Gorman, Sara Atwood, Amelia Yeates, Miles Mitchard, Supritha Rajan, Jed Mayer, and George Levine, with an introduction by Sharon Aronofsky Weltman) on topics ranging from aesthetics and economics to modernity, memory, education, and science.

  • Birch, Dinah. “Introduction.” In Selected Writings. By John Ruskin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Concise and illuminating, this is the best and most up-to-date brief introduction to Ruskin.

  • Landow, George. Ruskin. Past Masters Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

    Erudite and accessible, this brief introduction is reprinted online on the Victorian Web with many useful hyperlinks.

  • Various authorsSpecial Issue: John Ruskin. Nineteenth-Century Contexts 18.2 (1994).

    Valuable interdisciplinary essays by Elizabeth Helsinger, Dinah Birch, Judith Stoddart, and Jan Marsh, with and introduction by Michael Wheeler.

  • O’Gorman, Francis. John Ruskin. Sutton Pocket Biography. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1999.

    Lively and informative short introduction to Ruskin’s life and work for the neophyte.

  • Rosenberg, John D. The Darkening Glass: A Portrait of Ruskin’s Genius. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1986.

    Essential reading for anyone interested in Ruskin, this brilliant book is widely credited with reviving critical interest in Ruskin in the 1960s. Originally published in 1963.

  • Sawyer, Paul. Ruskin’s Poetic Argument: The Design of the Major Works. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1985.

    Enormously influential study of Ruskin as a writer, focusing readers on the artistry and significance of Ruskin’s language in understanding his ideas. Also available online.

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