Ruskin, science, and the miracles of life

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Abstract

'The peculiar darkness of materialism is its denial of the hope of immortality' 1 John RuskinJohn Ruskin's capacity to provoke can rarely be underestimated. That he sincerely believed the new 'materialist' science of Victorian England might in the 1870s and 80s profit from an understanding of spiritualism, contrary to the views of many men of science, was not out of character. This essay looks at the dedication of Ruskin's late science books - Love's Meinie (1873-81), Deucalion (1875-83), and Proserpina (1875-86) - to the vitality of the dead. It does so partly in the light of Ruskin's conception of his duty to re-teach the wisdom of the past, but also in relation to his renewed sense, after the death of Rose La Touche in 1875 and the miraculous events of 'Christmas Story', of the soul's durability. I argue that the volumes take arguments about the miracle of life's continuation into the heart of where Ruskin thought it mattered most - modern 'empirical' science - and that, among other things, they are sustained by a peculiarly moving form of hope as their imaginative habits return repeatedly to matters of immortality. The science books are not the strange and barely readable texts they are usually assumed to be, but alive with curious hopes of life. © The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press 2009; all rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-288
Number of pages13
JournalReview of English Studies
Volume61
Issue number249
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2010

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