Ross, Ian Campbell 1950-
ROSS, Ian Campbell 1950-
PERSONAL: Born March 25, 1950; son of Robert Campbell and Mary Joyce Ross; married Maria Pia Cozzi; children: Maria Luisa, Anna Laura, Daniela Giulia. Education: University of Sussex, B.A., 1971; University of Edinburgh, Ph.D., 1975; University of Dublin, M.A., 1982.
ADDRESSES: Office—Dept. of English, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, lecturer in English literature, 1975-77, lecturer in modern English, 1977-87; Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, fellow, 1988, senior lecturer, 1987-2000, associate professor of English, 2000.
MEMBER: Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society (cofounder).
Swift's Ireland ("Irish Heritage" series), Eason (Dublin, Ireland), 1983.
(Editor) Public Virtue, Public Love: The Early Years of the Dublin Lying-in Hospital, the Rotunda, O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1986.
Umbria: A Cultural History, Viking (London, England), 1996.
Laurence Sterne: A Life, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Ian Campbell Ross's specialty is eighteenth-century English and Irish literature, but his Umbria: A Cultural History, is a study of the only landlocked region of Italy, a place where Ross lived for a time. It was also home to St. Francis of Assisi, and a Times Literary Supplement reviewer called the section on this figure "the most original."
The region is named for the Umbri, who lived about 1000 B.C. They were a violent people who left behind seven bronze tablets, discovered in the fifteenth century, that bear descriptions of the way in which captured enemies were sacrificed. Ross covers the history of Umbria back to the Etruscans, who seized the lands of the Umbri, the subsequent Roman settlement, and the Guelphs and the Ghibellines of the Middle Ages, who attacked and murdered each other on a regular basis.
An Economist reviewer said that when Ross "has finally dispatched the last of the bloody tyrants to an unquiet grave, he turns to the real heroes of Umbria, the saints and the artists. To read his luminous descriptions of Lorenzetti's 'Deposition,' or his praise of St. Francis … is to want to book your ticket to Assisi immediately." Umbria also includes chapters on the wine and food of the region.
Locating Swift: Essays from Dublin on the 250th Anniversary of the Death of Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, edited by Ross and others, resulted from a 1995 conference held at Trinity College. The ten essays contained therein represent the changes in Swift criticism since Jonathan Swift 1667-1745: A Dublin Tercentenary Tribute (1967), edited by Roger McHugh and Philip Edwards, which also came from a Trinity conference.
J. A. Downie noted in Review of English Studies that the editors' "fine introduction goes on to consider changes in Swift studies in the intervening years.
While theoretical approaches, including feminism, have yet to put down firm roots in the Swiftian landscape, Aileen Douglas, Patrick Kelly, and Ian Campbell Ross suggest 'the value of a renewed engagement on the part of Swiftians with history, and, especially, Irish history.'" Downie also noted that of all the classical English authors listed on Trinity's first English literature syllabus in 1856, "only Swift was born in Ireland." Swift is best known for writing Gulliver's Travels.
Ross, who edited The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, in 1983, also wrote a biography of the eighteenth-century author of that book titled Laurence Sterne: A Life. Sterne published two small volumes relating the life of Shandy in 1759, and continued writing further installments of Shandy's comical adventures until his death in 1767. Sterne was born in Clonmel, Ireland, in 1713, the son of a soldier who later died in a duel over a goose. Sterne moved frequently until the age of ten, when he was taken in by an uncle. He attended Cambridge University, became a minister, and also worked for a time as a journalist.
Sterne's fiction is colorful, as was his life. His wife finally had a nervous breakdown after years of suffering his indiscretions, including his intimate relationships with servants and prostitutes. Catherine Fourmantel, who traveled from London to be with him, was increasingly neglected as the "Tristram Shandy" books became more successful. He wrote tender intimate letters to his last love, Eliza Draper, only after she had traveled to India.
New Statesman reviewer Julian Evans wrote that Ross "views Sterne's literary activity as an early example of modernity's most self-seeking epiphenomenon—the marketing campaign." Sterne spent nearly as much time promoting his books as he did writing them, using enticements to illicit good reviews and forging letters praising his work. Evans said that Sterne "was the centre of his own universe, unbearable, selfish, and duplicitous without thought to his faith, his wife, or his mistresses. His ambivalence was permanent and extraordinary." Evans called Ross's biography "expertly detailed."
An Economist reviewer commented that Ross suggests that the failure of Sterne's marriage "was as much a disappointment to Sterne as to his wife, and that his philandering and intense sentimental friendships with other women were the signs of emotional starvation in a man whose life was continually threatened by tuberculosis. If his optimistic theology encouraged hopes for human happiness in this world, Sterne was conscious, like his own Tristram, of running a race against time and death which he was bound to lose. Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human, Mr. Ross observes, is a tempting title for a life of Sterne, who one feels might not have disagreed."
Sterne died at the age of fifty-four, and within a year of his burial, his body was stolen by body-snatchers who sold it to his alma mater for dissection in anatomy class. His identity was discovered by a student who recognized what was left of his face, and the body was reburied.
Spectator reviwer David Nokes called Laurence Sterne "surprisingly uncomplicated, being brisk, informative, and intact." Gerald T. Cobb wrote in America that Sterne "lived in a vortex of conflicting careers and emotional commitments, and the literature that emerged was correspondingly rich in its verbal swirls and gesticulations. Ross's biography does justice to that complexity and that richness." In the New York Review of Books John Bayley declared that Laurence Sterne should "ideally be scholarly and Shandean in feeling and response," adding that "Ross has managed to do both things beautifully, and has produced what must be the most readable as it is certainly the most sympathetic and perceptive biography to date."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, November 5, 2001, Gerald T. Cobb, review of Laurence Sterne: A Life, p. 23.
Economist, May 18, 1996, review of Umbria: A Cultural History, p. S14; April 14, 2001, review of Laurence Sterne, p. 2.
Eighteenth-Century Fiction, April, 1999, Robert Mahony, review of Locating Swift: Essays from Dublin on the 250th Anniversary of the Death of Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, pp. 371-373.
London Review of Books, June 6, 2002, John Mullan, review of Laurence Sterne, pp. 13-15.
New Statesman, August 13, 2001, Julian Evans, review of Laurence Sterne, p. 40.
New York Review of Books, October 24, 2002, John Bayley, review of Laurence Sterne: A Life, pp. 58-58.
Review of English Studies, August, 1999, J. A. Downie, review of Locating Swift, pp. 387-388.
Spectator, May 12, 2001, David Nokes, review of Laurence Sterne, p. 41.
Times Literary Supplement, July 19, 1996, review of Umbria, p. 32.