decorated initial 'I'n the early chapters of his autobiography, Praeterita, John Ruskin attempts to explain the development of the "'the most analytic mind in Europe'" (p. 487) through his education, his solitude, and his travels. In the process of describing his growth as an observer, and hence as an artist, he constantly calls attention to his own presence as a writer and the process of writing and printing involved in this work's production, often referring to earlier moments in the text and even going so far as to print an example of his own childhood penmanship next to a facsimile of the actual letter he wrote to his engraver in regards to the former. In doing so, Ruskin makes use of ideas many associate primarily with the Postmodern movement.

I write these few prefatory words on my father's birthday, in what was once my nursery in his old house, — to which he brought my mother and me, sixty-two years since, I being then four years old. What would otherwise in the following pages have been little more than an old man's recreation in gathering visionary flowers in fields of youth, has taken, as I wrote, the nobler aspect of a dutiful offering at the grave of parents who trained my childhood to all the good it could attain, and whose memory makes declining life cheerful in the hope of being soon again with them. [p. 461]

But it is the great error of thoughtless biographers to attribute to the accident which introduces some new phase of character, all the circumstances of character which gave the accident importance. [p. 475]

I was particularly fond of watching him shave; and was always allowed to come into his room in the morning (under the one in which I am now writing), to be the motionless witness of that operation. [p. 482]

My mother's list of the chapters with which, thus learned, she established my soul in life, has just fallen out of it [Ruskin's Bible]; I will take what indulgence the incurious reader can give me, for printing the list thus accidentally occurrent: — [pp. 486-6]

Hence what people call my prejudiced views of things, — which are, in fact, the exact contrary, namely, post-judiced. (I do not mean to introduce this word for general service, but it saves time and print just now.) [p. 490]

These examples bring attention to the act of production usually veiled from the reader and force an atmosphere of continual presence upon the work.


1. How does this continual presence affect the relationship between Ruskin and his reader, between the past and the present?

2. Why might Ruskin feel the need to justify his work by presenting the reader, in his preface, with the temporal and spatial circumstances of his creative process?

3. What does Ruskin achieve by referring back to earlier moments in his text (i.e. p. 478)?

4. How does Ruskin's manipulation of printing (showing us his own handwriting and the list of Bible verses) comment on publication and the creative process as it relates to commodity?

Last modified 30 April 2024