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THIS outstanding biography is as remarkable a piece of investigative scholarship on Ruskin – “as enthralling a story as any triple-decker Victorian sensation novel”, yells the Washington Post – drawing on the complete text of Ruskin’s diaries and many thousands of unpublished letters and bringing a wider perspective and fresh insight into Ruskin’s sad and tormented life.

Previously published in two volumes in 1988 and 2000 as The Early Years and The Later Years, Tim Hilton believes that Ruskin should be studied for his own sake and is admirable to this day. Ruskinians are divided between those who believe he was an influential force against the values of 19th century society and those who think this is nonsense.

The author, who as an undergraduate in the 1960s was asked to understand that an interest in Ruskin was as foolish as an enthusiasm for Modern art, offers a wonderful critique on Ruskin’s didactic writing career which spanned many years and some 250 titles: “His contribution did not become clearer as he published more books... Ruskin’s criticism of his times might have had more impact if it had been concentrated in ten years’ work rather than 40; his extended crusade was both familiar and ignored... yet it is true hat he stood alone and his work was not appreciated. This was the more so the longer he lived and wrote.”

Ruskin, who on his uncontested divorce from Euphemia (Effie) Gray, told his solicitor: “I married in order to have a companion – not for passion’s sake; and I was particularly anxious that my wife should be able to climb Swiss hills”, has found a proud and worthy champion in Tim Hilton of Ruskin’s “brave and unhappy life”.