The Assumption of the Dragon: Ruskin’s Mythic Vision

  • Sara Atwood


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.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

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

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