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63503.  Sun Apr 02, 2006 6:46 pm Reply with quote

Q: What surprised John Ruskin on his wedding night?

Right, first off: are most people aware of the 'obvious' answer, or will we just get 'Ruskin? Who he?' if we try this one? (We can certainly avoid getting this reaction from the panel by using the question in the right show - ie John Sessions or Clive Anderson or Rory McGrath or Jeremy Clarkson or Andy Hamilton or David Mitchell would certainly know it - but would it mean anything to the audience?)

Secondly, at the moment I don't have an answer other than 'nothing'. Mat - the source for this is Matthew Sweet's book; can you see if it looks solid, and whether there's a better answer or, indeed, a better question?

Any road up, the myth is that the only nudes Ruskin had ever seen were classical statues, and that he was consequently so shocked by the sight of pubic hair that he went into a decline from which he never quite recovered. A letter to the FT in December said this:

The idea that John Ruskin refused to consummate his marriage on the sight of his wife Effie's pubic hair …. didn't appear until Mary Lutyens's biography of John and Effie Ruskin, first published in 1965, and stems from the mid-20th century myth of Victorian prudery. The likelihood that any person growing up in the Victorian era could reach adulthood without an understanding of the adult anatomy was remote. In Ruskin's case, we know that he was aware of the female form from a series of surprisingly frank letters he wrote to his parents in his undergraduate days. Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians has a rather good debunking of this myth, which has been surprisingly durable, considering the distinct lack of supporting evidence.

63530.  Mon Apr 03, 2006 7:04 am Reply with quote

Very convincing, Flash. The story only works if he didn’t know what naked women looked like, and it seems pretty clear that he did.

I’ve considered and rejected this as a Mythcon several times over the years, simply because I don’t know how many people have heard the story ... not that many millions, I suspect. As for another question or answer ... not really, I’m afraid. He rather fancied little schoolgirls, but then so did all clever men in his day, it seems. He was pretty mad, but again that was not an unusual condition amongst his peers.

On the other hand, it might be worth forcing him into the show, just so we can use this Ruskin QI-quote:

“For myself, I am never satisfied I have handled a subject properly until I have contradicted myself at least three times.”

Or is that an “and finally ... ” ?

And it was said of him that he was “a man of much sensibility, but no sense.”

One of the things that drove him bonkers, apparently, was his love for Rose La Touche; she was 9, he was in his forties. She addressed him as “Dear St Crumpet” and “Archigosaurus” and he called her “Mouse-Pet.” All rather unsavoury; she developed “religious mania” according to Sweet, and died in her twenties. In his last days, Ruskin wasn’t quite sure who he was and referred to himself as “little donkey boy.” But, hell, we've all had mornings like that, right?

63535.  Mon Apr 03, 2006 7:42 am Reply with quote

In the research meeting this morning most people got the right wrong answer when I put it to them, so I do think this ought to fly if directed at a brainy panel. I think it's funny enough to take a chance on, anyway.


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