John Ruskin's sexuality  

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"On his wedding night, John Ruskin was so shocked by his discovery of his wife Effie's pubic hair that he rejected her, and the marriage was later legally annulled. ..." --Sholem Stein


"It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it." --Ruskin

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

British cultural critic John Ruskin's sexuality has led to much speculation and critical comment. His one marriage, on April 10, 1848 to Effie Gray, was annulled after six years because of non-consummation. His wife, in a letter to her parents, claimed that he found her "person" (meaning her body) repugnant. "He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April." Ruskin confirmed this in his statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings. "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."

The cause of this mysterious "disgust" has led to much speculation. Ruskin's biographer, Mary Lutyens, suggested that he rejected Effie because he was horrified by the sight of her pubic hair. Lutyens argued that Ruskin must have known the female form only through Greek statues and paintings of the nude lacking pubic hair and found the reality shocking. This speculation has been repeated by later biographers and essayists and it is now something that "everyone knows" about Ruskin. However, there is no proof for this, and some disagree. Peter Fuller in his book Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace writes, "It has been said that he was frightened on the wedding night by the sight of his wife's pubic hair; more probably, he was perturbed by her menstrual blood." Ruskin's biographers Tim Hilton and John Batchelor also take the view that menstruation is the more likely explanation, though Batchelor also suggests that body-odour may have been the problem.

Ruskin's later relationship with Rose la Touche has also led to claims that he was a paedophile, on the grounds that he stated that he fell in love with her when he met her at the age of nine. In fact he did not approach her as a suitor until she was seventeen, and he repeatedly proposed to her for as long as she lived. Ruskin is not known to have had any other romantic liaisons or sexual intimacies. However, during an episode of mental derangement after Rose died he wrote a letter in which he insisted that Rose's spirit had instructed him to marry a girl who was visiting him at the time. Letters from Ruskin to Kate Greenaway also exist, in which he repeatedly asks her to draw her "girlies" (as he called her child figures) without clothing:

Will you – (it’s all for your own good – !) make her stand up and then draw her for me without a cap – and, without her shoes, – (because of the heels) and without her mittens, and without her – frock and frills? And let me see exactly how tall she is – and – how – round. It will be so good of and for you – And to and for me.

Ruskin's biographers disagree about the allegation of paedophilia. Hilton, in his two-volume biography, baldly asserts that "he was a paedophile", while Batchelor argues that the term is inappropriate because his behaviour does not "fit the profile".




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "John Ruskin's sexuality" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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