John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education

John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education

Edited by Valerie Purton

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

John Ruskin influenced Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and William Morris among others. A great educator, Ruskin is the force behind key debates in education today. The essays in ‘John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education‘ examine Ruskin’s influence on educating girls, libraries, creativity, grammar schools, social mobility, the environment and the future of the planet.

Hardback, 204 Pages


June 2018

£70.00, $115.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Podcasts

About This Book

John Ruskin, whose bicentenary will be celebrated world-wide in 2019, was not only an art historian, cultural critic and political theorist but, above all, a great educator. He was the inspiration behind such influential figures as William Morris, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and Mahatma Gandhi and his influence can be felt increasingly in every sphere of education today, for example, in debates about the importance of creativity, about grammar schools and social mobility, about Further Education, the crucial social role of libraries, environmental issues, the role of crafts as well as academic learning, the importance of fantasy literature, and the education of women. The current collection brings together ten top international Ruskin scholars to explore what he actually said about education in his many-faceted writings, and points to some of the key educational issues raised by his work. [NP] The volume is divided into three sections, covering the three major areas of Ruskin’s concerns, namely social reform, the arts and religion. Their titles suggest his dynamic effect in all three areas: A) Changing Society; B) Libraries and the Arts; C) Christianity and Apocalypse. Ruskin’s vision of education as both dividually and socially transformative is explored by Sara Atwood in Chapter 1. Among much else, he stresses the value of simplicity, one of many ideas he shared with his great admirer, Leo Tolstoy, a relationship explored by Stuart Eagles in Chapter 2. Ruskin believes too in the social and educational importance of dress, an idea developed by Rachel Dickinson in Chapter 3. Jan Marsh, in Chapter 4, examines Ruskin’s contradictory stance on female education. Though he was a great believer in the ‘separate spheres’, he also championed wider learning opportunities for girls. The dissemination of education, through libraries and through the arts, is one of Ruskin’s abiding concerns. Continuing his argument about the power of simplicity over artifice, he talks in the inaugural address of ‘the virtues of Christianity [being] best practised, and its doctrines best attested, by a handful of mountain shepherds without art, without literature, almost without language.’ In the history of Switzerland, he says, ‘The shepherd’s staff prevailed over the soldier’s spear.’ In Chapter 5 Emma Sdegno explores Ruskin’s Shepherds’ Library, his notion of book dissemination to such people, while in Chapter 6 Stephen Wildman examines another of his educational experiments, the use of photography to enable ordinary people to encounter the Old Masters and to ‘see clearly’. Paul Jackson in Chapter 7 breaks new ground in revealing Ruskin’s response to music, an art to which he responded deeply as a sensuous experience, while arguing that it could also act as an agent of moral improvement. In Chapter 8 Edward James examines Ruskin’s only explicit foray into fairytale, ‘The King of the Golden River’, and links this back to his imaginative use of the fantastic and of fairyland images throughout his social and political writing.

Ruskin was both a teacher and a preacher. His recollection in Praeterita of his first recorded speech, as a very small boy, ‘People, Be Good!’1 suggests the trajectory of his adult career. Keith Hanley and Andrew Tate in the final chapters of this collection explore the links between his aesthetic and his religious views. Hanley in Chapter 9 picks up the notion of the absolute centrality of this Christian worldview to Ruskin’s life and work and suggests the perils of ‘secularising’ him. In Chapter 10, Tate pursues Ruskin’s apocalyptic vision. Ruskin believed that ‘Every human action gains in honour, in grace, in all true magnificence, by its regard to things that are to come’; for him, therefore, ‘apocalypse’ meant, not an ending, but a revelation.


"A valuable new vantage on Ruskin’s contributions to a trans-European conversation among writers, intellectuals, and educational professionals concerning educational philosophy, instruction, school organization, and the social benefits of educational improvements during the nineteenth century. — Sarah Winter, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Vol. 47, No. 1: Spring 2020"

As this volume shows, Ruskin’s view was that self-fulfilment for everyone was possible. The book also sets out Ruskin’s understanding that constraints of conventionality had to be broken fully to achieve the full self-fulfilment of all. — High Hobbs, The Companion, No. 19, 2020, accessed online at

‘Building on Ruskin's growing reputation as an environmental and economic thinker, this timely and searching volume assembles work by leading scholars to show his equally powerful contribution as an educational theorist and practitioner.’
—Marcus Waithe, University Senior Lecturer, Faculty of English, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, UK

‘This brilliant collection of ten ground-breaking essays hints at Ruskin’s extraordinary range, sometimes by focusing on unexpected topics – verse translation, music, photographic reproduction – while also dealing with the idea and practice of education itself, especially education for women and working-class men.’ —Clive Wilmer, Master of the Guild of St George

Author Information

Valerie Purton is emerita professor of Victorian literature at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, and has published widely on the Victorians. She is the author of Dickens and the Sentimental Tradition (2012); editor of the Everyman Dombey and Son (1997) and Darwin, Tennyson and Their Readers (2013); and co-author of the Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Tennyson (2010) and Poems by Two Brothers: The Poetry of Tennyson’s Father and Uncle (1993). Purton has been editor of the Tennyson Research Bulletin since 2011.


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Foreword by Francis O’Gorman; Introduction, Valerie Purton; Section A. Changing the World; 1. ‘An Enormous Difference between Knowledge and Education’: What Ruskin Can Teach Us, Sara Atwood; 2. ‘Souls of Good Quality’: Ruskin, Tolstoy and Education, Stuart Eagles; 3. ‘To Teach Them How to Dress’: Ruskin, Clothing and Lessons in Society, Rachel Dickinson; 4. Mad Governess or Wise Counsellor? Sesame and Lilies Revisited, Jan Marsh; Section B. Libraries and the Arts; 5 ‘A Very Precious Book’: Ruskin’s Exegesis of the Psalms in Rock Honeycomb and Fors Clavigera, Emma Sdegno; 6. ‘Our Household Catalogue of Reference’: Ruskin’s Lesson Photographs of 1875–76, Stephen Wildman; 7. Ruskin, Music and the Health of the Nation, Paul Jackson; 8. Ruskin and the Fantastic, Edward James; Section C. Christianity and Apocalypse; 9. Ruskin’s ‘Many-Sided Soulfulness’, Keith Hanley; 10. ‘Catastrophe Will Come’: Ruskin, Nation and Apocalypse, Andrew Tate; Notes on Contributors; Index.


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