'By Winding Paths and Varied Slopes': John Ruskin's Non-fiction Prose and the Transformation of the Nineteenth Century Elegy
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Amy C. Billone
Gregor Kalas, Alisa Schoenbach, Arthur Smith
In this work I explore how the non-fiction prose of John Ruskin contributes to the transformation of the poetic genre of elegy in mid-late Victorian England. I argue that in this period, the elegy undergoes a shift so dramatic that its generic elements are no longer confined to poetry. I place and question the changes occurring in the Victorian elegy in part by my study of Peter Sacks' seminal text The English Elegy (1985). In contextualizing my argument, I also consider more recent genre studies of the elegy by Stuart Curran, Erik Gray, Elizabeth Helsinger, Jahan Ramanzani, and Karen Weisman.
The hybrid nature of Ruskin's non-fiction prose embodies not only his debt to the genre of poetic elegy but his willingness to transform the elegy into an expression truly representative of the multiplicity of Victorian life. Jahan Ramanzani's Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney claims that the “anti-elegy” is fully developed only in the twentieth century and ultimately argues that the “aggressive dislocations of elegiac codes” causing our own unease with consolation are unique to the modern elegy. What Ramanzani's study fails to recognize is the complexity and multiplicity of forms present in the Victorian elegy before Thomas Hardy. The framework of my dissertation allows us to explore how John Ruskin's understudied and under-theorized non-fiction prose operates as a field for the germination of hybrid forms and offers a new lens through which to understand Ruskin’s body of work.
Bowman, Bethann R., "'By Winding Paths and Varied Slopes': John Ruskin's Non-fiction Prose and the Transformation of the Nineteenth Century Elegy. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2012.