Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ruskin's Rehabilitation


John Ruskin, Self-portrait, in Blue Neckcloth (1873)
Anthony Lane, in his “Art For Love’s Sake” (The New Yorker, August 14, 2000; included in his excellent 2002 collection Nobody’s Perfect), asks, “Which is worse: to be Humbert Humbert who seduces an underage female, with or without her consent, but who at least comprehends what he has done; or to be a John Ruskin, who is guilty of no rape or ravishment, but who hardly begins to know his own depravity?” Lane’s judgment of Ruskin’s infatuation with girls has always struck me as unduly harsh. Recently, I was pleased to see Garry Wills express an alternative view. In his absorbing “Ruskin: The Great Artist Emerges” (The New York Review of Books, April 3, 2014), Wills writes,

It is true that Ruskin’s heated religious upbringing made him inhibited and guilty about sex. It is also true that he had the Victorian desire to see women as angels, and to focus on little girls as more angelic than others – a trait shared by American Victorians like Henry Adams and Mark Twain. This form of nympholepsy did not make these men pedophiles. Rose was Ruskin’s Beatrice or Laura, not his preyed-upon Lolita.

Does it matter if John Ruskin was a pervert? It matters to me. I relish his writing. I want to be able to enjoy it without the guilt that I’m enjoying the work of a pedophile.

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