This essay provides a close reading of the term “character” in Ruskin’s “Lamp of Memory” in The Seven Lamps of Architecture. Ruskin gives the word not one, but three distinct meanings that help explain the ways a building must and must not change over the course of its life. Each shading of “character” is rooted by an unconventional conception of the flow of time that is unique to Ruskin. There are three types of character, having to do with narration, personification, and the picturesque, that provide the substructure of his argument about how a building contains and aids memory. This essay aims to make evident the underlying logic of the Lamp of Memory through the examination of a word that is often overlooked in analysis of Ruskin and the nineteenth century as a whole. It is a word that Ruskin leans on, and he does not do so lightly.
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