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Ruskin's Dust

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ella Mershon



This is the final published version of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Indiana University Press, 2016.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This essay traces the connection between the aesthetics and ethics of self-formation in John Ruskin's The Ethics of the Dust (1865) and mid-century debates about inorganic matter's 'vital' forms. Offering a reappraisal of dust's role in Ruskin's oeuvre and Victorian culture more broadly, this essay argues that 'dust' signifies decay's release of chemical potentiality, which thus encodes inorganic matter's formative power as it ceaselessly morphs and moves through myriad forms. Introduced through Ruskin's conversion of girls into particles of dust, the essay ends with a meditation on the gender of changefulness by turning to another great Victorian text on dust, Our Mutual Friend (1864–65), and to Lizzie Hexam's unique relationship with that precious chemical agent: coal.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mershon E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Victorian Studies

Year: 2016

Volume: 58

Issue: 3

Pages: 464-492

Print publication date: 30/04/2016

Acceptance date: 11/01/2016

Date deposited: 19/02/2019

ISSN (print): 0042-5222

ISSN (electronic): 1527-2052

Publisher: Indiana University Press


DOI: 10.2979/victorianstudies.58.3.03


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