I came to Ruskin through Proust… My discovery of Proust was an epiphanic moment. In the final year of my BA Hons French degree at Birkbeck, University of London, students in my group had the choice of a special subject between Pierre Corneille or Marcel Proust. Corneille was to be taught, in English, by an Englishman, Professor William Barber, whereas Proust was to be taught, in French, by a French lady, Dr Ninette Bailey. I had already some knowledge of Corneille, having studied some of his plays for my 'A' levels. But I knew nothing at all about Proust, other than the suggestion that he was considered to be difficult! Most of my fellow students chose what I thought was the more boring, less difficult option. I took up the challenge of Proust and have never regretted it. I was gripped, intoxicated (in the way in which Proust was on discovering Ruskin) and could not put A la recherche du temps perdu down. I read the entire work, always in French, at least three, if not four times during the year.
At some point – I cannot remember when – I found out that Proust had translated two books – The Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies – by someone called John Ruskin. Ruskin was no more than a name! I was curious to find out how and why Proust had accomplished this remarkable feat without, seemingly, a knowledge of English. Solving this mystery became the subject of my doctoral thesis.
Proust has always remained my 'first love' and I find it difficult to read other novels due to this Proustian interference – no other writer is as rich! I reread Proust's novel, his essays and other writings constantly; and I read Ruskin mainly through the prism of Proust.
My interest in Ruskin is principally his writing about France and its architecture. I have visited nearly every place that Ruskin explored through word or image, and have written extensively about these experiences. I particularly enjoyed researching Ruskin's Burgundy, and with my Burgundian co-author Matthieu Pinette, published L'œil de Ruskin: l'exemple de la Bourgogne (Dijon, Les Presses du réel) in 2011.
So Proust and Ruskin continue to enrich my life and give me much satisfaction and happiness. And moreover, I find myself talking with such enthusiasm about these writers that I have acquired a large following of fans!
Last modified 22 February 2019