On John Ruskin and His "Sesame and Lilies"

Victorian Era

A woman’s true power rests in her feminine values and her willingness to insist those values are as critical to society as men’s values.  Today, more than ever, women’s values need to be front and center. 

John Ruskin (1819–1900) was an English artist, scientist, poet, environmentalist, philosopher, and the preeminent art critic of his time. Ruskin’s lecture Sesame and Lilies, first published in 1865, stands as a reminder of the role of women in society:

“There is not a war in the world, not an injustice, but you women are answerable for it; not that you have provoked, but in that you have not hindered. Men, by their nature, are prone to fight; they will fight for any cause, or for none. It is for you to choose their cause for them and to forbid them when there is no cause. There is no suffering, no injustice, no misery, on the earth, but the guilt does not lie with you. Men can bear the sight of it, but you should not be able to bear it. Men may tread it down without sympathy in their struggle, but men are feeble in sympathy, and contracted in hope. It is you only who can feel the depths of pain, and conceive the way of its healing. Instead of trying to do this, you turn away from it. You shut yourselves up within your park walls and garden gates; and you are content to know that there is beyond them a whole world in wilderness—a world of secrets which you dare not penetrate; and of suffering which you dare not conceive.”

While feminist critics of the 1960s and 1970s regarded the section of the book "Of Queens' Gardens" as an example of repressive Victorian ideas about femininity, the lesser cited"Of Kings' Treasuries" part reveals the complex and fascinating views by the author. A deeper read into Ruskin reveals the "balance" we've yet to strike in between quasi-Victorian femininity and armchair warriors of the age  "unable to discern where their own ambition modified their utterances of the moral law." 

You may contact Francesca at: francesca@francescadebardin.com

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