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Customer Review

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More relevant than you'd think, 21 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Sesame and Lilies (Lectures) (Paperback)
I'm reviewing the basic text here, not any editorial notes or interpretation (one never knows which editions the system will stick the review to).

I read this first a couple of years ago, and I couldn't really get beyond Ruskin's elaborate, rather smug Victorian English. It annoyed me and I wondered why, when first published, there was such a hoo-hah. The second time of reading, the unfamiliar grammar is less obtrusive and I was getting his sense. Take note of this; if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Because a lot of what Ruskin has to say applies just as much, if not more so, today. He talks (these were, originally, public lectures) about our obsession with status and celebrity, our neglect of the things that really matter - our hypocrisy, and our ability to turn a blind eye to things that make us uncomfortable.

Ostensibly, the book is about how to approach culture; books, paintings and so on. Especially how, and what to read, and why. But it also about our responsibilities as members of the human race, about what makes our lives worthwhile, and what is fool's gold. About vanity, friendship, organised religion - and celebrity worship, and the demands of charities. About how a nation should conduct itself, and about just and unjust wars. It's about what constitutes a real education, and what is a waste of our time and effort.

Ruskin makes assumptions about what his audience will be familiar with; assumptions which were valid for a well-educated crowd in his day, but are now wildly optimistic. He assumes you will have read Milton, Shakespeare, and probably Dante as well. But you don't have to have this kind of literary background to get the benefit of what he has to say, so bear with him and read on with care; follow his thread and give him a chance.

I should not need to make it plain that Ruskin's ideas on the education and role of women are not those of today. However for the 1860s they are surprisingly liberal. At this time, most girls, if taught anything beyond the 3 Rs, were simply force-fed long strings of facts like "the principal exports of Argentina", with no attempt at understanding. Ruskin says at one point that girls should be educated in depth - in science, for example, to the last point before the step of starting original research - a page or so later, that they should learn all this simply so as to be good and helpful wives. I think this last bit is a sop to public opinion, lest he lose his audience by being too radical. He is against censoring girl's reading and in favour of them reading all the classics; most unusual for his day. He is very down on trashy novels though! If he had a time machine, I suspect he would have been shocked but pleased to find a strong female presence in the liberal professions; appalled at the sight of female front-line soldiers, especially as he would have hope 150 years would have seen an end to wars, just or unjust.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Aug 2011 16:34:02 BDT
Bridget says:
This review made me dig my old copy out, and read it.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Oct 2011 18:13:37 BDT
Peasant says:
But what did YOU think of it?

Posted on 30 Oct 2011 10:01:43 GMT
Thank you for a good and thoughtful review.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Oct 2011 11:07:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Feb 2012 17:58:40 GMT
Peasant says:
Ta for the feedback. I try to hit the middle ground between people who give you a completely subjective gut reaction (pro or anti) and those who precis the book over several pages but don't tell you what they actually thought of it. We'll leave aside the people who write reams about their own theories and opinions and hardly touch on the book itself . . . :-{)

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Sep 2014 16:11:44 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 26 Sep 2014 16:12:19 BDT]
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Location: Deepest England

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