The best books on Ruskin

"It helps us to build a wonderful, varied portrait of Ruskin the man. He would dismiss people without a second’s hesitation. He often really had no interest in them. He would meet someone, and on the following day forget he’d ever met them. On one occasion, he is reported as making this wonderful remark: I have to turn up to dinner today, in order to prove that I’m not a myth. These are delightfully revelatory things that Effie manages to tell us about him, and incidentally, she reminds us that she’s clever enough in her own right. She describes how she’s learning German, she knows Italian, feels that her French is not up to scratch as far as she’s concerned. We’re talking about a woman who is no pushover, intellectually.

We learn an awful lot about the unguarded Ruskin by reading her letters, his weaknesses and foibles, his impulsive collecting habits, the money he would spend (often his father’s) on flights of fancy such as casts of sculpture and all sorts of other stuff, and having them shipped back to England, constantly. He was spending absurd amounts of money, and were it not for these letters of Effie’s, we might not be unaware of the extent of his compulsive behaviour. It’s an insightful commentary upon the nature of the man himself, and how he proceeded through life, pleasing himself."