Friday, February 07, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ John Ruskin's Other Side

Inspired by looking through the illustrations in a lovely book I have, "The Arts and Crafts Companion" by Pamela Todd, I set out to prepare a post on the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, during the last decades of the 19th century. It did spread to the USA, taking on a slightly different flavour. The Movement took in parts of Art Nouveau, bits of Pre-Raphaelite style, it has within it as a pioneer, one of my heroes, William Morris, and a distinct hint of socialistic thinking runs all through it. Another name crops up regularly in relation to the formation of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, that of John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900). He was something of an artist himself, but more famous as an art critic and patron of the arts, as well as a philanthropic social thinker and author of many books and essays on a variety of topics.

Though a successful, prominent and multi-talented character professionally, in his personal life he appears to have had problems, it's on these I found myself concentrating rather than on his art or his writings about art. Why? It might become clear later, bearing in mind the coincidence of recent news items concerning a certain movie director, about whom arguments are still going around in circles in the court of internet opinion. What follows will do nothing to influence those arguments one way or the other, however.

John Ruskin's parents were first cousins - which to my mind leaves a hovering potential question mark over their only offspring's health, physical and/or mental. The father was a wine merchant who co-founded a now famous company, had a love of Romanticism and shared it with his son. His mother, an Evangelical Christian, shared a somewhat puritanical opposing set of values. Another question mark hovers: would the child survive these opposing sets of views, unaffected, into adulthood? It seems he didn't. In spite of his industrious nature and professional achievements, his private life just kept going wrong.

 Effie by Millais
Ruskin lost his first love, Adèle Domecq, to a French nobleman while he was studying at Oxford. Later on, his marriage to Effie Gray floundered and was annulled on the ground of non-consummation owing to his "incurable impotency", something disputed by Ruskin. Effie had written to her parents indicating that her husband found her "person" repugnant. There has been much speculation on exactly what that implied, but isn't it likely to be some overflow from his mother's early puritanical teachings? After the annulment Effie married artist John Everett Millais, the union brought forth eight children.

Was Ruskin asexual then? If not completely, there had to have been some inbuilt difficulty in that area of life. He is said to have suffered from periods of mental distress and illness throughout his life, there's no doubt some connection.

 Rose La Touche by John Ruskin
John Ruskin, it turns out, was attracted by the sexual innocence of young females. A later relationship, with Rose La Touche, did nothing to dispel the cloud which had gathered over his private life. He, rather unwisely, stated that he had fallen in love with Rose when she was just 9 years old, though any relationship did not begin until she was around 18. Rose eventually rejected his courtship. She died, aged only 27, sending Ruskin into a bout of mental derangement. He turned to spiritualism and believed himself able to communicate with Rose, beyond the grave.

Wikipedia adds that
It is also true that in letters from Ruskin to Kate Greenaway (illustrator of books for children) he asked her to draw her "girlies" (as he called her child figures) without clothing.

In a letter to his physician John Simon on 15 May 1886, Ruskin wrote:
"I like my girls from ten to sixteen—allowing of 17 or 18 as long as they’re not in love with anybody but me.—I’ve got some darlings of 8—12—14—just now, and my Pigwiggina here—12—who fetches my wood and is learning to play my bells."

Ruskin's biographers disagree about the allegation of "paedophilia". Tim Hilton, in his two-volume biography, boldly asserts that Ruskin "was a paedophile" but leaves the claim unexplained, while John Batchelor argues that the term is inappropriate because Ruskin's behaviour does not "fit the profile". Others also point to a definite pattern of "nympholeptic" behaviour with regard to his interactions with girls at a Winnington school. However, there is no evidence that Ruskin ever engaged in any sexual activity with anyone. In common with his contemporary, Lewis Carroll, what Ruskin valued most in pre-pubescent girls was their innocence; the fact that they were not (yet) fully developed sexual beings is what attracted him
I have to wonder whether, had his parents not been first cousins, had their influences not been quite as diametrically opposed, would John have managed to navigate his love life more smoothly and would he have avoided the mental distress he so obviously suffered.

A look at his natal chart using data from Also, in The Life of John Ruskin:, Volume 1; Volumes 1819-1860 by Edward Tyas Cook there's this:

What struck me first from Ruskin's natal chart was that most action is found in the winter signs, Sagittarius to Pisces - just one very significant factor opposes from a summer sign, Cancer - the Moon, thought be some astrologers to represent the mother figure. Here Moon is at home in the sign of its rulership too. This opposition reflects inner contradictions arising in Ruskin, due in part to strongly contradicting influences he experienced in childhood, from his parents.

If he was correct about his birth time, it rather conveniently puts his Aquarius Sun on the ascendant (makes me wonder whether he had massaged this a wee bit!) Aquarius Sun and rising with Jupiter also in the first degree of that sign underlines an intellectually and politically inclined nature, aided by some Earthy business sense via Capricorn and creative talent via Pisces and Sagittarius.

I'm not sure this is relevant, but six of his planets form two distinct "cuspy" clusters : Uranus, Neptune and Venus straddle the cusp of Sagittarius/Capricorn; Mercury, Mars and Jupiter straddle the cusp of Capricorn/Aquarius. There's a third cluster too, all in Pisces: Saturn, Chiron and Pluto. I'm unsure how to describe what I see from those "cuspy" clusters: a certain discordance, or discomfort, akin to musicians playing in different keys. Could this be loosely related to Ruskin's love-related difficulties and choices? Otherwise, I don't see them indicated here. Maybe a whisper of them can be heard from Black Moon Lilith (the lunar apogee) in Cancer in 5th house (if birth time is accurate). 5th house represents pleasure and children. Black Moon Lilith I see only as another sensitive point in the chart - so in this case putting emphasis on the sign/house in which it is found.


mike said...

I wasn't familiar with John Ruskin until now...thanks. I read the Wiki link, too. A complex man, it seems, with controversy surrounding his biography. I was struck by the pro and con aspects of the disputable portions of his life, mainly the sexual aspects.

Marriage in the mid 1800s had different factors to consider than our contemporary view:

"...marriage had very little to do with love and for almost all Europeans and Europeans in America, marriage was primarily an economic arrangement negotiated between families in which family considerations of status, future economic stability, and prosperity were the most important considerations in selecting a potential spouse."

Nor do I think that it was particularly unusual in that era for older men to have notions about much younger women in their teens, a proverbial trophy wife.

I would not think that his Moon opposed Mercury-Mars-Jupiter and inconjunct Uranus-Neptune, plus Venus quentile Saturn, would be conducive toward "normal" emotional relationships. A conflict of emotional expectations (Jupiter), physical action and motivation (Mars), disproportionate thinking (Mercury), coupled with sterile disillusion (Uranus-Neptune), plus the quentile, a creative aspect, but perhaps one of putting women on a pedestal to be admired more through grace and admiration than romance. The Moon square the nodes, which are in the relationship signs and the sexual houses, don't help, either. This guy has way too much impetus centered on his Moon! He has some interesting Pluto stuff, too.

Reading about Ruskin's marriage to Effie Gray reminded me of a character from "The Paradise", Katherine Glendenning. John Moray became rather repulsed by Katherine, but had financial dealings with Katherine's father to contend with, hence the proposed marriage. Katherine became possessive of Moray and didn't want his feelings for Denise Lovett to stop the didn't matter to Katherine that Moray had lost physical and emotional interest in her...she wanted him as a possession.

Perhaps the inferences and unknowns with Ruskin were induced by his astrological placement of Uranus-Neptune at his midheaven making the public's perception of his personal, interior life surprising, foggy, speculative, and hidden. He seems to have had a very strong, mostly untarnished, respected, professional life by pushing old boundaries into new territories.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, we can't apply present-day social/cultural expectations to events of the 19th century. The experience of love itself, I think, changes less through the ages than do public expectation of what's acceptable and what isn't. I get the impression that Ruskin was a dyed in the wool romantic, he loved what and whom he loved in a rather naive and innocent way for a man of his intellectual talents, without caring what others thought. In a way he never grew up, he stayed emotionally in something akin to a teenage-dream.

As you say, his professional life didn't suffer from what we can tell - and that is fortunate, because he was influential in the right ways for the time - embracing mild socialism to counteract the ills the industrial revolution had brought in its train.

The marriage to Effie Gray had to have been the biggest mistake of his with Moray in "The Paradise", kind of - yes.

The Uranus/Neptune conjunction around 1819 maybe brought about other notable oddities or quirks in its natives.
I took a quick look at a list of the best known:

As a start there's -
Walt Whitman
Herman Melville
George Eliot (a female)