John Ruskin, via Elizabeth Gaskell, and the working classes

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Abstract

This article considers the question of what forms of redaction nineteenth-century writers often undergo by contemporary readers wishing to make them conform better to contemporary ideological preferences. It starts by considering the secularisation of Elizabeth Gaskell in popular accounts of her and the over-simplification of her class politics. The essay then concentrates on the even more severe editing of John Ruskin (1819-1900). My argument notes, for instance, a modern preference for him as a proto-socialist rather than a High Tory; a secular prophet of climate change rather than a writer fearing that the climate revealed divine displeasure; and the energetic removal more thoroughly of Ruskin’s religious faith (in all its complicated forms). The essay endeavours to envisage a more historically accurate portrait of Ruskin’s mind than that presented in particular in recent bicentennial exhibitions and articles. What would an un-redacted Elizabeth Gaskell look like?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-62
Number of pages24
JournalThe Journal of the Gaskell Society
Volume34
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2020

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