Today it’s my turn and the last day of the BlogTour Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin.
About the Author
Rebecca Lipkin has had a passion for Victorian art and literature from a young age. She first discovered John Ruskin through E.M. Forster’s novel, A Room with a View, and later joined the Ruskin Society at the age of seventeen to learn more about Ruskin’s work. Rebecca pursued a career in journalism, specialising in arts writing and theatre reviewed, and has worked for a number of national publications.
Rebecca says, “Most accounts of John Ruskin’s complex personal life focus on his brief marriage to Effie Gray, but his twenty-year relationship with Rosa La Touche was of huge importance to the evolution of his thinking; it is a captivating and tragic story of two people whose loving friendship transcended boundaries and conventions to the very end.”
About the book
London, 1858. Passionate, contradictory, and fiercely loyal to his friends, John Ruskin is an eccentric genius, famed across Britain for his writings in art and philosophy. Haunted by a scandalous past and determined never to love again, the 39-year-old Ruskin becomes infatuated with his enigmatic young student, Rose La Touche, an obsession with profound consequences that will change the course of his life and work.
Written in a style recalling Victorian literature and spanning a period of twenty years, the story poses questions about the nature of live, the boundaries of parenthood, and compatibility in marriage. Unto This Last is a portrait of Ruskin’s tormented psyche and reveals a complex and misunderstood soul, longing for a life just out of reach.
John Ruskin is very much a man of his privileged upbringing, but also one who has clearly struggled in the past to fit into society, because he refuses to conform when it comes to certain areas.
He is already a man with an established reputation as art critic, artist, teacher and philosopher, however the contrast to those exceptional traits is his scandalous personal life. In his fourth decade he becomes enamoured by a young girl called Rose, perhaps because they both share an openness when it comes to discovering the world around them – the ability to look beyond the boundaries others set, and the inability to abide by all the restrictions others set.
John is a constant disappointment to his parents, and yet is bound to them like a young child unwilling to sever the ties, whereas Rose is bound by parents who expect their daughter to obey and not bring a hint of scandal upon them. Unfortunately their story, although a long one, doesn’t end well for either.
I think a distinction should be made, although one could argue that the two are inseparable, between Ruskin’s vision, talent and his sexuality, his lack of interaction in his short-lived marriage, and of course his attraction to Rose. Obviously his relationship and love for Rose can be classed as hebophilia, and would be today.
However given his marriage and lack of interest in his wife I think he was probably a man who had experienced a lack of affection and love or perhaps it was just a matter of asexuality. Being asexual would explain both scenarios and especially why he felt as if he had found someone who understood him, his soul if you like, in young Rose.
George Shaw makes an interesting point; ‘Isn’t he a Victorian Warhol, on the edge and in the centre at all times? And like Warhol, he saw his own philosophy and his belief not within himself but in the world around him.’
You have the genius, perhaps before his time, who is regarded as peculiar and as not always adhering to societal standards. In fact his aptitude in regards to art and the way artists held him in regard and the way he endeavoured to share this love, without any self-recognition of his own talent in comparison, is very telling. Isn’t that always the way of things that men and women who have the capacity to think beyond the norms and boundaries, that they are often slotted into categories of the mentally ill, a danger to society, heretics and so on, depending on the era they live or lived in. I think that is also the case for Ruskin.
Lipkin absolutely does his life, the disparity between the way historians regard him, and the way he was both perceived and he perceived himself, absolute justice. It’s actually strange to think of it as a fictional account, albeit one based on factual events, records and historical records, because Lipkin seems to capture him so well.
I’d also agree and kudos to the author for looking beyond the short marriage and the questions which arose from it, and perhaps also for steering clear of recent televised accounts of his life. Instead the story is an attempt to understand the man behind the reputation, the rumours and more importantly behind the mind of the man who left a the legacy for future generations to enjoy.