In "Traffic," Ruskin details how the ideal British estate comes at the cost of the wellbeing of the poor:
Is not that, broadly, and in the main features, the kind of thing you propose to yourselves? It is very pretty indeed seen from above; not at all so pretty, seen from below. For, observe, while to one family this deity is indeed the Goddess of Getting on, to a thousand families she is the Goddess of not Getting on. 'Nay,' you say, 'they have all their chance.' Yes, so has every one in a lottery, but there must always be the same number of blanks. 'Ah! but in a lottery it is not skill and intelligence which take the lead, but blind chance.' What then! do you think the old practice, that 'they should take who have the power, and they should keep who can,' is less iniquitous, when the power has become power of brains instead of fist? and that, though we may not take advantage of a child's or a woman's weakness, we may of a man's foolishness?
Ruskin includes himself in the criticism by saying "we may not" and "we may." However, he distances himself from the problem through the use of a fake conversation. Ruskin does not include himself in these hypothetical statements. Instead he uses phrases like "you say" in order to distance himself. Ruskin wants his audience to believe for a moment that he includes himself in the problem when in actuality he tricks them with this comforting idea in order to further criticize them.
1. Ruskin frequently uses lengthier sentences like, "In this mansion are to live the favoured votaries of the Goddess; the English gentleman, with his gracious wife, and his beautiful family; always able to have the boudoir and the jewels for the wife, and the beautiful ball dresses for the daughters, and hunters for the sons, and a shooting in the Highlands for himself." What do you believe this technique accomplishes? How does it affect the pacing of his speech?
2. Ruskin frequently used his words to paint mental pictures. Immediately preceding this quoted passage Ruskin describes a "pretty" country estate with an attached mill:
Your ideal of human life then is, I think, that it should be passed in a pleasant undulating world, with iron and coal everywhere underneath it. On each pleasant bank of this world is to be a beautiful mansion, with two wings; and stables, and coach-houses; a moderately sized park; a large garden and hot houses; and pleasant carriage drives through the shrubberies. In this mansion are to live the favoured votaries of the Goddess; the English gentleman, with his gracious wife, and his beautiful family; always able to have the boudoir and the jewels for the wife, and the beautiful ball dresses for the daughters, and hunters for the sons, and a shooting in the Highlands for himself. At the bottom of the bank, is to be the mill; not less than a quarter of a mile long, with a steam engine at each end, and two in the middle, and a chimney three hundred feet high. In this mill are to be in constant employment from eight hundred to a thousand workers, who never drink, never strike, always go to church on Sunday, and always express themselves in respectful language.
Ruskin stated earlier that when seen from above, this scene seems "very pretty indeed" when seen from above. Do you believe this image has inherent beauty and do you believe his audience would have agreed with this sentiment?
3. How do you think the passage quoted in the previous question relates to the idea of the British ideal in other works we have read throughout the semester? In particular, do you think Pip from Great Expectations and Jane from Jane Eyre hoped to live in an estate like the one mentioned above or do you think they would agree with Ruskin?
4. Ruskin states, "and that, though we may not take advantage of a child's or a woman's weakness, we may of a man's Foolishness?" What do you think it means that Ruskin here blames the plight of the poor on their foolishness?
5. In the chapter "The Nature of Gothic" from Ruskin's Stones of Venice he states, "it will be necessary to consider the different ways in which change and monotony are presented to us in nature; both having their use, like darkness and light, and the one incapable of being enjoyed without the other: change being most delightful after some prolongation of monotony, as light appears most brilliant after the eyes have been for some time closed." [books.google.com/books]
Ruskin also discusses change in "Traffic" when he states, "do you think these phenomena are to stay always in their present power or aspect? All history shows, on the contrary, that to be the exact thing they never can do. Change must come; but it is ours to determine whether change of growth, or change of death." How do these statements relate to each other?
Last modified 17 April 2009