Advertisement

The Assumption of the Dragon: Ruskin’s Mythic Vision

  • Sara Atwood
Chapter

Abstract

Ruskin’s Evangelical upbringing, immersion in Romantic art and literature, artistic training, study of mythology, love of nature, and interest in science combined to produce a rich and complex perception of the natural world. As a result, Ruskin’s ideas about nature reflect the “interwoven temper” (35: 56) of his mind. He could look at mountains as both poet and geologist; embrace the power of myth and the evidence of physical law; employ the vocabulary of emblematic tradition and that of contemporary science. For Ruskin, nature was never simply a subject of study, a sanctuary, or scenic prospect, but rather an essential element of human life; man was not merely in the landscape, but of it, intimately connected to the earth in “the circles of vitality” (16: 378). Rejecting the fragmentation of modern life, Ruskin stood for synthesis against separation, intent on the ways in which all things “bind and blend themselves together” (35: 561). Ruskin decried the effects upon nature of industry, short-sighted development, and public apathy. For him, the darkening skies and damaged earth signaled a fundamental spiritual and cultural imbalance. His conflation of material and moral disintegration was not simply an expression of despair, madness, or reactionary conservatism, but was connected by “all manner of strange intellectual chords and nerves with the pathos and history of this old English country of ours; and on the other side, with the history of the European mind from earliest mythology down to modern rationalism and ir-rationalism” (35: 533). Ruskin’s richly allusive, associative, symbolic writing expresses a sense of the death of an entire way of life and vision of the world. It is an exercise in mythmaking, an intricate layering of story, image, association, and experience meant to reveal the moral significance of material phenomena.

Works Cited

  1. Atwood, Sara. “Black Devil and Gentle Cloud: Ruskin and Emerson at Odds.” Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 40, no. 2, Fall 2013, pp. 129–62.Google Scholar
  2. ———. “‘The Earth Veil’: Ruskin and Environment.” Guild of St. George Publications, 2015. Google Scholar
  3. ———. “‘The Earth Veil’: Ruskin and Environment.” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, new series, vol. 24, March, 2015, pp. 5–24.Google Scholar
  4. Birch, Dinah. “Ruskin’s Multiple Writing: Fors Clavigera.” Ruskin and the Dawn of the Modern, edited by Birch. Oxford UP, 1999, pp. 175–87.Google Scholar
  5. ———. Ruskin’s Myths. Oxford UP, 1988.Google Scholar
  6. Blake, William. William Blake: Complete Works. Delphi Classics, 2012.Google Scholar
  7. “Books and Bookmen.” Harper’s Weekly, 23 May 1903, p. 880.Google Scholar
  8. Byron, George Gordon. “Darkness.” Selected Poems. Penguin Books, 1996, pp. 412–14.Google Scholar
  9. Corton, Christine L. London Fog: The Biography. Harvard UP, 2015.Google Scholar
  10. Davis, Alan. “Journeys Through the Doors of Perception: John Ruskin and William Blake.” Ruskin Review and Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 2, Lent Term 2006, pp. 24–45.Google Scholar
  11. ———. “Misinterpreting Ruskin: New Light on the ‘Dark Clue’ in the Basement of the National Gallery, 1857–58.” Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 38, no. 2, Fall 2011, pp. 35–64.Google Scholar
  12. Day, Brian J. “The Moral Intuition of Ruskin’s ‘Storm-Cloud.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, vol. 45, no. 4: The Nineteenth Century, Autumn 2005, pp. 917–33.Google Scholar
  13. Eagles, Stuart. After Ruskin: The Social and Political Legacies of a Victorian Prophet, 1870–1920. Oxford UP, 2011.Google Scholar
  14. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Alfred R. Ferguson, Joseph Slater, Douglas Emory Wilson, et al. Harvard UP, 1971–2013.Google Scholar
  15. ———. The Selected Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Joel Meyers. Columbia UP, 1997.Google Scholar
  16. Evelyn, John. Fumifugium. 1661. Reprint, U of Essex P, 1976.Google Scholar
  17. Fitch, Raymond E. The Poison Sky; Myth and Apocalypse in Ruskin. Ohio UP, 1982.Google Scholar
  18. Frost, Mark. “Reading Nature: John Ruskin, Environment, and the Ecological Impulse.” Victorian Writers and the Environment: Ecocritical Perspectives, edited by Laurence W. Mazzeno and Ronald D. Morrison. Routledge, 2017, pp. 13–28.Google Scholar
  19. Hewison, Robert. “The Beautiful and the True.” Ruskin, Turner, and the Pre-Raphaelites, edited by Robert Hewison, Ian Warrell and Stephen Wildman. Tate Gallery, 2000, pp. 11–19.Google Scholar
  20. Hilton, Tim. John Ruskin: The Later Years. Yale UP, 2000.Google Scholar
  21. Landow, George. The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin. Princeton UP, 1971.Google Scholar
  22. Muir, John. The Mountains of California. Century, 1907.Google Scholar
  23. O’Gorman, Francis. “‘The Eagle and the Whale’: Ruskin’s Argument with John Tyndall.” Time and Tide: Ruskin and Science, edited by Michael Wheeler. Pilkington Press, 1996, pp. 45–64.Google Scholar
  24. Richardson, Robert D. Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. U of California P, 1986.Google Scholar
  25. Ruskin, John. Hortus Inclusus. George Allen, 1902.Google Scholar
  26. ———. The Works of John Ruskin (Library Edition). 39 vols. Edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. George Allen, 1903–1912.Google Scholar
  27. Simpson, Marc. “The Dream of the Dragon: Ruskin’s Serpent Imagery.” The Ruskin Polygon: Essays on the Imagination of John Ruskin, edited by John Dixon Hunt and Faith M. Holland. Manchester UP, 1982, pp. 137–58.Google Scholar
  28. Thoreau, Henry David. “Walking.” Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, edited by Phillip Smith. Dover Publications, 1993, pp. 49–74.Google Scholar
  29. Walls, Laura Dassow. Henry David Thoreau: A Life. U of Chicago P, 2017.Google Scholar
  30. Wheeler, Michael. Ruskin’s God. Cambridge UP, 1999.Google Scholar
  31. Worster, Donald. A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir. Oxford UP, 2008.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Atwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Portland State UniversityWest LinnUSA

Personalised recommendations