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Unto This Last and Other Writings (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 4, 1986

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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From the Back Cover

The most influential art theorist and critic of his age, an outstanding man of letters, a sensitive painter and draughtsman, Ruskin's social criticism shocked and angered the establishment and many of his admirers.

About the Author

John Ruskin was born in London in 1819, of Scottish descent. His father was a succesful wine-merchant and art lover; his mother a strict Evangelical whose religious instruction affected him deeply. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1836 and graduated in 1842. In 1843, the first of the five volumes of Modern Painters was published, a work written in defense of J.M.W. Turner. The other volumes survey the main traditions of European painting from Giotto to the nineteenth century. Ruskin was also passionately interested in Gothic architecture and published two books on the subject before the completion of Modern Painters: The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and the three volumes of The Stones of Venice in 1851 and 1853. He married Effie Gray in 1848, but seven years later the marriage was annulled on grounds of non-consummation. In 1858 he met Rose la Toche, a girl of nine, with whom he fell in love and became increasingly obsessed, and in that year he finally lost his Evangelical faith. In 1860, disillusioned with a society in which poverty was rampant and the poor exploited, he began the first of four essays attacking the science of Political Economy. They were published in book form in 1862, uner the title, Unto this Last. This was followed in 1863 by Munera Pulveris, which puts forward some positive proposals for economic change and reform. In 1869 he became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford and in 1871 began writing Fors Clavigera, a series of open letters which draw connections between diverse subjects. He also took part in many practical projects, many of which he directed by way of his Utopian pressure-group, the Guild of St. George. When Rose la Touche died insanse in 1875, however, he began to show signs of mental disturbance and suffered the first of seven mental breakdowns in 1878. In 1885 he began publishing his autobiography, Praeterita. This moving and lyrical book was brought to a premature conclusion by his last and most violent breakdown in 1889. He lived on, withdrawn and inactive, until 1900.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Penguin Classics edition (February 4, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140432116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140432114
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By frumiousb VINE VOICE on September 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
_Unto This Last_ is a series of four essays on political economy, which were originally designed to be published in Cornhill Magazine. The essays caused so much contemporary anger and scorn, however, that their publication was discontinued.
Ruskin began as an art critic, who wrote in favor of a naturalism based in the imagination rather than the eye. His works discussed the moral and political dimensions of art and architecture, and it was probably natural that this would lead him into his interest in socialism and the powerful writing found in _Unto This Last_. He was passionately arguing against the Utilitarianism of writers such as John Stuart Mill and others who saw immutable laws of economy which were rooted in anything except justice. His assertion was that the accumulation of money was in fact an accumulation of power rather than wealth, and necessarily resulted in an imbalance which adversely affected society. For instance, he said that a successful factory which polluted the environment could not be termed profitable because of the resulting damage to society itself.
This collection of Ruskin's works (edited and with commentary by Clive Wilmer) contains the whole of _Unto This Last_ and enough of a selection of his other works to give a sense of the chronological position of the essays in Ruskin's career.
The book features an early fairy tale by Ruskin which was written for his wife, an excerpt from _The Stones of Venice_ which discusses the nature of Gothic architecture, excerpts from _the Two Paths_ and _Modern Painters_, two lectures which were published as parts of _The Crown of Wild Olive_ and _Sesame and Lilies_, and finally ends with letters 7 and 10 from _Fors Clavigera_.
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A compilation of some of the important works of Ruskin are included here, the most important being (in Ruskin's own words) "Unto This Last", which had a profoundly moving effect on Ghandi (among others) and his approach and philosophy. For Ruskin morality and moral economics, sustaining/healthy economics, comes from basic things like knowing who made your shirts and that this person is getting a fair wage for their efforts -- taking responsibility for the effect one's use of money has on the lives of others. Taking advantage of other's economic misfortune was immoral and likely to result in a future backlash on the greater society as well as well as one's inner well being. An intelligent/knowledgeable person taking advantage of the stupid or ignorant is no different than violence of the strong upon the weak, Ruskin analogized. Ruskin illustrated his ideal of a moral economy by using the Gothic "Christian" style as an example, explained in the "Stones of Venice", its communal/community development, its imperfection yet impressive beauty. Perfection is not beautiful in Ruskin's view of life/art; which echoes something of the Zen view of art. Ruskin also argued that homes, during the Gothic age, were in the Gothic style as well and that modern Churches should mimic something of the style of the typical house being built today, the church should not be seen as a separate entity, a separate style; the Church should be integral to the community's self identity and use a similar architecture. Ruskin also inadvertantly created a style and movement he did not aprove of, by creating such a popular view of the Gothic style, that being the Anglo/Catholic movement whom enjoyed the gothic style church and ceremony.Read more ›
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I must say I never expected this to be such a stunner. I have read it twice but confess that I am sitting down again. This has to be the 'Matrix' of the 1800's as it certainly turns conventional thinking on its head...
The introduction by Clive Wilmer is extremely enlightening as it provides a background against which the book can be thoroughly enjoyed. This book cleared a lot of doubts I had for a long time on many things and I must say raised twice as many questions about what I thought right :-)
Ruskin has been praised by many people as being the vioce of truth. He starts his main essay from a story in the Bible and then blows the reader away with his acute judgements and impeccable logic. In the end all you can do is but agreee that 'There is no Wealth but Life'
Also recommend 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' by Tolstoy.
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John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a British art critic who later turned social critic. His most well-known work is probably "The Stones of Venice", a tribute to medieval Venetian architecture. His most interesting work, however, might be "Unto this last", published in book form in 1862. This modern edition from Penguin contains both "Unto this last" and some of Ruskin's other writings, including "The Two Boyhoods" and most of "The meaning of Gothic" (taken from his work on Venice). The point of the selection is to emphasize the connection between Ruskin's social criticism and his view of art.

Ruskin was an arch-conservative, called himself High Tory and idealized the Middle Ages, medieval Venice in particular. In art, he supported the Romantic movement, and became known for defending the Romantic landscape painter Turner. Later, he associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, an ostensibly "medievalist" art movement. He also admired Gothic architecture for it's "savageness, changefulness, naturalism, grotesqueness, rigidity and redundance", usually considered negative features. To Ruskin, the seemingly chaotic style of Gothic buildings was truthful to nature, and he believed that the medieval workmen were free and creative spirits who could manufacture Gothic sculptures and ornaments according to their own whims. In many ways, he seems to have projected the Romantic view of the world back onto the High Middle Ages.

Ruskin shocked his pampered middle-class audience in 1860, when "Cornhill Magazine" began to serialize "Unto this last". This was not a work of art criticism, but a rather violent attack on capitalism! The subscribers to the magazine demanded that Ruskin's articles should be stopped, which they also were. Although unfinished, Ruskin published them in book form two years later.
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