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Walter Pater

Walter Pater: Individualism and Aesthetic Philosophy

Kate Hext
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt5hh2p3
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    Walter Pater
    Book Description:

    Repositioning Walter Pater at the philosophical nexus of Aestheticism, this study presents the first discussion of how Pater redefines Romantic Individualism through his engagements with modern philosophical discourses and in the context of emerging modernity in Britain. It also considers the dynamics between form and thought at the fin de siècle, contextualizing its comments in terms of Matthew Arnold, Oscar Wilde and Vernon Lee and others, to offer a fully integrated account of the intellectual cultures and currents in this period. Key Features: Boldly reassesses Pater's intellectual significance, arguing that he self-consciously poised on the cusp between late-Victorian Romanticism and Modernism Imaginatively combines close readings with cultural and intellectual history and biography to reconsider individualism and philosophical thought in the Aesthetic 'Movement' Provides the most substantial scholarly engagement with Pater's unpublished manuscripts (held at the Houghton Library, Harvard University)

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4626-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vi-vii)
    Julian Wolfreys
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Note on Editions and Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. [Illustration]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Chapter 1 Introduction: Individualism and the ʹaesthetic philosopherʹ
    (pp. 1-23)

    The faltering centre of Walter Pater’s aesthetic philosophy is his conception of the individual. The individual, and not art, is at the very heart of his aestheticism. Amid the storms that assailed subjectivity in mid-Victorian culture, Pater’s aesthetic is a portrait of humanity ‘in its uncertain condition’ (R 39); an admission that we may be but ‘a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream’ (R 151), spiritually desolate and ever possessed by conflicting desires. Yet still it is animated by the quiet Romantic ambition that self-identity in the modern world may be reconceived through aesthetic experience.Walter Pater: Individualism...

  8. Chapter 2 Empiricism and the Imperilled Self
    (pp. 24-43)

    February 1861 found Walter Pater bent over a volume of Hume’sPhilosophical Works, making notes on little squares of paper in the gloom of his college library. He was a third year undergraduate, and Hume was part of a self-directed programme of reading that ranged far beyond the requirements of his degree in Literae Humaniores. His contemporary and friend Ingram Bywater recalled that Pater ‘devoured all the serious literature of the period: Carlyle, Ruskin, Browning, J. S. Mill, and also our older writers, Berkeley and Hume’ (1917: 79). Those ‘older writers’ of philosophy feature particularly prominently in Pater’s library records...

  9. Chapter 3 Subjectivity and Imagination: From Hume to Kant via Berkeley
    (pp. 44-63)

    At just after nine o’clock on a Saturday evening, in July 1864, Pater delivered his second paper to the Old Mortality Society. Provocatively directed to his close friend Charles Shadwell who had nominated him for the Society, it was an audacious attempt to define a rare type of individual, one who ‘crosses rather than follows the main current of the world’s life’ (D 154). It was called ‘Diaphaneitè’. As well as being deeply personal, this essay shows Pater trying to work through what it means to be a subjective individual. Though unpublished until after his death when Shadwell himself included...

  10. Chapter 4 Metaphysics: Paterʹs Failed Attempt at Atheism
    (pp. 64-84)

    Dappled light on wet cobblestones and light drizzle in the air. Against the glare of a low sun an incongruent pair is silhouetted, wandering west along Brasenose Lane. One is relatively tall and big-boned, with a slight stoop; the other is short and delicate, and they are engaged in hushed but earnest conversation. At least, the taller man animatedly talks. The other, in deferential silence, stays close and listens, venturing to interrupt only occasionally. Their faint single shadow follows them between the walls of Lincoln and Exeter, and as they turn right onto the Turl, we lose them amongst the...

  11. Chapter 5 Sense and Sensuality: Caught between Venus and Dionysus
    (pp. 85-108)

    Walter Pater carefully satiated his desire for innocuous sensations. He kept a bowl of rose petals on his desk and fresh orange peel on his window sill to create exquisite aromas (Bussell 285). Once, at a luncheon party, he was playfully asked: if he were to be a fish what kind of fish he would be. To this he replied, ‘a carp’ (qtd Seiler 1987: 105). In this dry parody of his popular image Pater would be, no doubt, an ornamental carp with luminescent silvery multi-colours to make him a fish of vivid beauty. He would exist to experience pure,...

  12. Chapter 6 Paterʹs Copernican Revolution: The Desiring, Dying Body
    (pp. 109-129)

    On a spring day in 1874 Walter Pater had a ‘dreadful interview’ with Benjamin Jowett at which he was confronted with evidence of his romantic attachment to a student called William Hardinge (Inman 1991: 1). Following this meeting Jowett permanently withdrew Pater’s nomination for a University Proctorship. In the months during which they had become close friends, Hardinge had sent intimate poems to Pater, and Pater had returned with letters signed ‘yours lovingly’. Details of the affair were subject to gossip and suppression but the letters alone were evidence enough for Jowett’s intervention.

    Although this episode was soon hushed in...

  13. Chapter 7 Evolution and the ʹSpeciesʹ: The Individual in Deep Time
    (pp. 130-145)

    At Oxford Pater was steeped in the continuities of tradition. Not that change was entirely absent from Oxford life in the late nineteenth century. After decades of resistance, certain key figures in government and at Oxford – Pater’s friends Benjamin Jowett and Mark Pattison amongst them – accepted the need for the university to broaden its curriculum and its outlook to better serve the needs of the nation.² Yet despite broad alterations, as noted in an earlier chapter, ‘the spirit of the place remained the same’ (V. H. H. Green 152). His position as a Fellow at Brasenose allowed Pater...

  14. Chapter 8 The Moment and the Aesthetic Imagination
    (pp. 146-164)

    Pater’s preoccupation with the intensely feltmomentof sensual or aesthetic experience goes back to the 1850s and persists throughout his career. In a poem written in the summer of 1858, just before he matriculated at Oxford, he asks with fearful innocence, ‘Where are the dead?’ (qtd Wright I, 136).¹ In his mature works his inability to answer this question leads him to consider how it is possible to live under the sentence of death-eternal, when the ephemeral individual life is lost in evolutionary history. The intensely felt moment is his answer.

    The expanse of evolutionary history and the precious...

  15. Chapter 9 Ethics, Society and the Aesthetic Individual
    (pp. 165-182)

    The subject of Pater’s second paper for the Old Mortality Society was Fichte’s Ideal Student, and it focused on self-culture. Its effect portended the moral outrage that hisRenaissancewould ignite nine years later. Audaciously eschewing the social conscience that was a feature of the Old Mortality meetings where they addressed subjects including education for the poor, Pater’s paper focused on self-culture. Pater found ideas in Fichte’s work which ‘seem to have become personal insights or personal ideals to Pater, or to have justified tendencies that were intrinsic to his personality’ (Inman 1981a: 70). As Gerald Monsman says, ‘it is...

  16. Chapter 10 Conclusion: ʹthe elusive inscrutable mistakable selfʹ
    (pp. 183-189)

    Vernon Lee might have had Walter Pater in mind as she wrote these lines. His meandering aesthetic philosophy, itself ‘never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy’ (R 152), was on no account ever brought to a conclusion. And so, to write a conclusion about Pater is already to engage in an exercise quite foreign to the man himself.

    The extent to which one may make conclusions about Pater’s late-Romantic individual is limited to a notional sense of an ending, never to be confused with resolution. A feather on the breath of time is Pater’s ever-shifting thought. His Prufrockian ‘visions and revisions’...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 190-207)
  18. Index
    (pp. 208-220)