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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


John Ruskin's Fors Clavigera: The Hero as Educator


1871 marked a turning point in John Ruskin’s career. At that point in his career, he had become an established intellectual authority with his appointment at Oxford, Ruskin Sr. had passed away and left him both a fortune and free reign over his intellectual pursuits, and he had taken over his own publishing methods. These momentous changes helped Ruskin turn to more closely examine questions of readership and what he saw as those readers’ needs: educational reading practices in particular and better education in general. My honors thesis seeks to examine the major project John Ruskin embarked on to ameliorate the needs of his readers: Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain (1871-84). This project examines how Ruskin came to write Fors: the material and biographical circumstances surrounding its production, Ruskin’s authority at the time, and the implied audience he was writing for. Here I explore the letters and investigate their form, the assumptions they make regarding reading, and the confusion respecting whether their implied audience matched up with the actual one Ruskin had. The works of what scholars call the “late Ruskin” (1870-1900) are daunting because of the phenomenal quantity and the experimental nature of much of that work. But this period, I argue, is also one of Ruskin’s most important because it is the time when he finally gains intellectual independence, and uses his status as an intellectual authority to bring about social change. Francis O’Gorman writes that “[r]eaders of Victorian non-fictional prose were once encouraged to believe that John Ruskin died in 1860. Not literally, certainly, but intellectually and imaginatively. The present project is invested in debunking this myth in order to remind readers that the “late Ruskin” has continuously influenced not only art criticism but also publishing methods, reading practices, and socialist thought.

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