The year 1835 is prominently recorded in Ruskin’s autobiography, Praeterita, as having inaugurated a new phase of his life and work. It was the year of the first journey that took him to Rouen and Venice, and the first of the long sequence of Continental journeys on ‘the old road’, a sequence made of returnings to familiar places, inns, and sights. By looking back on youth from the vantage point of old age, Praeterita makes sense of Ruskin’s personal life and at the same time constitutes one of the key texts of nineteenth-century British travel literature. The aim of Keith Hanley and Caroline Hull’s edition of the record of Ruskin’s 1835 journey is to document that founding moment in Ruskin’s life and in the history of European cultural tourism. Co-author with John K. Walton of Constructing Cultural Tourism:John Ruskin and the Tourist Gaze (Channel View, 2010), Hanley foregrounds the seminal nature of the journey in his scholarly introduction. He organizes his discussion of Ruskin’s 1835 juvenilia diachronically, so that they reverberate with later work, tastes, and modes—aspects which include Ruskin’s choice of signposts for his geographical map, his tendency to ‘separately assemble … [the] various approaches which would become his amalgamated interdisciplinary method’ (p. 28), and his insistence on the primacy of the visual experience and sense of the ‘multimedia gaze’ needed to capture its complexity. Hanley makes strong general statements concerning Ruskin’s discourse and creativity. Drawing, he claims, is already felt to be a necessary complement to words, limited as they are by constraints which ‘spur his rhetorical exuberances’ (p. 25), and the structurally unfinished nature of his mature work is already foreshadowed by the abrupt interruptions of the diary at Varenne, of the verse poem, A Tour through France to Chamonix, and of the delightful fictional narrative Chronicles of St. Bernard. A portfolio of 43 selected from among the 143 drawings fully recorded and located by Caroline Hull forms Part 2 of the book. They reveal Ruskin’s distinctive skills in drawing architecture and landscape. Mostly in pencil, some were engraved as illustrations for The Poetry of Architecture (1838), Ruskin’s first important piece of writing, and represent ‘seven or eight’ types of approaches to drawing, revealing ‘a still unresolved experimentation’ also in this medium (p. 168). The interest of the texts collected in this volume is on the whole remarkable. They represent a variety of literary genres ranging from the prose diary, the letter in verse, the dramatic sketch, the short story narrative, genres through which the same travel matter is shaped and reshaped, demonstrating the precociousness and versatility of Ruskin’s genius, his witty ironic vein, but also his brilliant mastery of prose. Although the interconnectedness of the materials is certainly a valuable critical feature, the diary–journal remains among the most fascinating of the texts: Ruskin’s daily notations on the colours of the sky, his geological and meteorological descriptions—precise and charged with vibrant emotional power—his constant focus on Mont Blanc, the sight of which is registered at each station along the Franco-Swiss stage of the journey the special charm rivers and falls held for him—the Aar, the Rhine, the Arve—his careful descriptions of the generally neglected landscape of the Jura, the notes on wild flowers and of snow that would reappear in important pages of Modern Painters 4, his encounter with the sublime at the Falls of Shaffausen, and his use of superlatives for the views, sites, and roads he crossed. Hanley’s is a revised edition of the diary published in Joan Evans and W. H. Whitehouse’s three-volume Diaries of John Ruskin (OUP, 1956). If early reviewers challenged the usefulness of that pioneering endeavour (see Anne-Marie Millim’s The Victorian Diary: Authorship and Emotional Labour (2013)), the recent remarkable interest in autobiographical as well as in travel writing makes that critique seem outdated. At the same time, new standards of textual of accuracy now leave us dissatisfied with Evans’s editorial policy, which involved adjustments, cuts, and text normalization. Restoring minor changes such as second thoughts and readings, Hanley and Hull’s edition has brought to light the original wording of the diary text, thus foregrounding some small but not irrelevant details. One of these concerns the dating of entries. Evans systematically put the date before the place name in the 1835 diary, in so doing following a criterion established in Ruskin’s 1830 diary, and also followed by his father, John James, in his 1835 travel journal reproduced in an appendix to Hanley and Hull’s volume. Ruskin, however, had a more flexible and mobile practice in starting his entries. It is significant, for instance, that from his second day in Chamonix onwards he inverts the order. This shift foregrounds place over time, registers the rapidity of travel from one locality to another, and highlights his enthusiasm for places. The fact that these changes occur in Chamonix is particularly important as Chamonix was to become one of the places of Ruskin’s heart, celebrated as one of his future life myths. Apparently technical details, such as the marginal areas of title entries and other paratextual features, prove to be emotional clues registered by the sensitive barometer of Ruskin’s private writing. The recent interest in emotional labour involved in diary and travel writing will certainly profit from the fresh material unearthed by this critical edition, which joins the scholarly series of the recordings that now map Ruskin’s early travels, namely, A Tour to the Lakes in Cumberland. John Ruskin’s diary for 1830, edited by Van Akin Burd and James S. Dearden, Scolar Press, 1990; Resumé of Italian Art and Architecture (1845), edited by Paul Tucker, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, 2003; the Electronic Edition of Ruskin’s 1849-50 Venetian Notebooks, edited by Ian Bliss, Roger Garside, Ray Aslam, Lancaster University 2008; and David C. Hanson’s work in progress on Ruskin’s early manuscripts, 1826–1842. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 30, 2017
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