Aesthetic Auto/biography: Ruskin and Proust

Max Saunders

in Self Impression

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780199579761
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722882 | DOI:
Aesthetic Auto/biography: Ruskin and Proust

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This chapter argues that the notion of ‘aesthetic autobiography’, attached by Suzanne Nalbantian to the modernist autobiographical Künstlerroman, in fact originates in the way earlier writers such as Ruskin and Gosse develop literary forms to construct their lives as aesthetically motivated. Ruskin's impressionist autobiography is investigated as a precursor of early twentieth‐century literary autobiographies by James, Conrad and Ford. Particular attention is paid to time, memory, impressions, and reading. The chapter proposes a changing view of ‘mediation’ through the period, arguing that Realism denies the mediation of reality by art; impressionism accepts the mediation of reality, but locates it in the process of perception and consciousness; modernism combines this interest in phenomenology with an awareness of how language or form mediates between the subject and the object; whereas postmodernism is founded on a denial, or suppression, of the objectivity of the object. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Proust (of all modernists the most indebted to Ruskin, and a sophisticated analyst of impressionism), from the rejection of biography in Contre Sainte‐Beuve to the fictionalization of autobiography in A la recherche. The essay on Ruskin, ‘On Reading’, is used to show how as for Ruskin autobiography is an act of reading, for Proust reading is an act of autobiography. Ruskinian impressionism is thus seen as also anticipating the modernist fictionalized auto/biography discussed in Part II.

Keywords: Ruskin; Proust; aesthetic autobiography; impressionism; modernism; Künstlerroman; reading; Suzanne Nalbantian; Praeterita; A la recherche du temps perdu; Contre Sainte‐Beuve

Chapter.  19565 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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