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Assigned: John Ruskin. From Modern Painters (1320-24); From The Stones of Venice (1324-34).

Of Interest: Author Image | Victorian Web | Millais' Portrait of Ruskin | Tate Gallery Review | Ruskin's Venice, Images

From Modern Painters

1. On 1320-21 ("Greatness in Art"), how does Ruskin define "great art"? What are its characteristics, and what effect should it have on an audience?

2. On 1321-22 ("The Slave Ship"), how does Ruskin's description of Turner's painting "The Slave Ship" illustrate his definition of greatness in art? Moreover, characterize Ruskin's style in his description of "The Slave Ship." How appropriate is the description to the painting?

3. On 1323-24 (''Of the Pathetic Fallacy"), what is the "pathetic fallacy"? According to Ruskin, what perspective about poetic language do readers risk losing when a poet commits that fallacy?

"The Nature of Gothic" from The Stones of Venice

4. On 1326-27, what are the three kinds of architectural ornament (1434)? How do those three kinds of ornament encapsulate Ruskin's moral interpretation of history?

5. On 1327-30, how does Ruskin explain the spiritual advantages of the Gothic (medieval, Christian, or "constitutional") style of ornament? What rationale does he provide for largely rejecting the modern capitalist principle of "the division of labor"?

6. On 1330-32, what responsibility, according to Ruskin, does the Victorian consumer bear towards workers? How, in other words, does the consumer fit into Ruskin's moral framework, his scheme for improving life for British workers? How does his contrast between machine-made glass beads and hand-made Venetian glass help him drive home his argument about the value of labor?

7. On 1332-33, what analysis does Ruskin offer concerning British labor and class divisions? To what extent is his thinking in this regard similar to Carlyle's in Past and Present?

8. On 1333-34, what rationale does Ruskin give for favoring "imperfection" in the products of labor over "perfection"? What role does his mention of the foxglove blossom play in his argument?

9. General question: economists in Ruskin's own day and in more recent times have sometimes said that the great Victorian sage was naive when he tried to suffuse capitalist market practices with moral concerns and even "correctness." They have a point since in a market society, powerful incentives govern both production and consumption. How much control, in your view, can consumers individually and collectively exercise over what gets produced and how it gets produced and distributed? Can we make a moral difference, or do you think the "amorality" of the market is so strong that it's hard to imagine conscientious people bringing about any real change for the better?

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.