Figures of Landscape in Ruskin
C. Stephen FinleyNature's Covenant, a reading of John Ruskin, including his neglected poems and early prose writings, brings forth a fresh awareness of his career as an interpreter of landscape, where landscape is conceived as a filter of human meaning, of aesthetic and theological significance. The book shows the correlation in Ruskin's work between the Reformed theology of his religious tradition and the Romantic poetics of literature that he sought to practice. It reconstructs the particular hermeneutic of landscape that Ruskin developed, a vision of the natural world that depended equally upon the Romantic/evangelical renovation of heart and eye and a remarkable articulation of the typology of nature. Ruskin's own theôria, or contemplation of nature's text, the full-scale development of which takes place in Modern Painters II, is revealed and explored, inviting renewed understanding of works both early and late, especially of certain key chapters of such often neglected works as "The Requiem" of St. Mark's Rest or the "Revision" of Deucalion.
Finley shifts the emphasis away from the secularized readings of this century to recover lost religious meanings in Ruskin's critical writing, including his unpublished sermons. No previous modern study has focused on Ruskin's religious upbringings and its influence on his mature writings while countering the critical received orthodoxy about his faith, his "unconversion," and inevitable secularization often retold as part of the narrative of modernism, which proclaimed the necessary supersession of Victorian superstition by modern enlightenment. Because of its commitment to a reading of Ruskin's religious sense in light of his romantic inheritance, Nature's Covenant is also a book about Victorian romanticism, sharing in the current reevaluation of Wordsworth's later career, and in the renewed scholarly attention to Sir Walter Scott.
C. Stephen Finley is Associate Professor of English at Haverford College.
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