The Grey side of John Ruskin
When I attended Newport (Mon) High School for Boys (established 1896), from 1958 to 1965, there were six “houses”, modelled, like much of the ethos of the school, on English “public” (actually, private) schools. I fail to remember all the names of the houses. I do recall that they were named after men – then, all famous. I belonged to (Isaac) Newton, as my Uncle Ronald (killed in action in 1941) had belonged to it. Another was named after (John) Ruskin (1819-1900) – eminent polymath, artist and art critic, social, commentator on social and economic and political matters, etc, etc.
Ruskin’s influence in his day is reported to have been enormous, on individuals and on movements. (Among others, he influenced Marcel Proust, as can be seen, for example, in the chapter, ‘Séjour â Venise’ (‘Staying in Venice’), in À la recherché du temps perdu.)
I have read Proust but never Ruskin.
It appears to me that Ruskin’s many contributions to serious thought have been absorbed by others and hence have come down to us in the ideas of others.
What an extraordinary legacy, then!
What is Ruskin chiefly remembered for nowadays? Probably, and sadly, his failed marriage (1848-1854) to Euphemia (“Effie”) Gray (1828-1897). In 1855 she went on to marry the painter John Everett Millais (1829-1896); and she had eight children.
Much has been written and produced about this “triangle” over the years, to the exclusion, to a large extent, of Ruskin’s own merits.
I have just seen, on BBC television, the 2014 film, Effie Gray, which devotes itself exclusively to the matter of the failed marriage and the developing relationship between Effie and Millais. Much of the content is based on guess-work.
Nothing indecorous is shown. The acting and scene-setting convey all we (as viewers) need to know.
Ruskin himself is portrayed as unfeeling and patronising towards Effie, and at the same time largely under the control of his own parents.
As a viewer, I longed for Effie to escape from the stifling atmosphere created by the Ruskin family and to escape – to the arms of her admirer, Millais, as that is what she wanted. A happy ending for her, then, and for Everett, but not for John.
The film makes much of this happy-sad story; but the material for the plot is rather slim.
There remains a larger story to tell about this Victorian sage.