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Pater, Walter (1839-1894)  
page: 1  2  

Marius the Epicurean

Morally upsetting though some readers found The Renaissance, the book reached an appreciative audience. By the 1880s, Pater's criticism was well established among younger writers as exemplary of avant garde aesthetic attitudes. His historical novel Marius the Epicurean, set in Rome during the era of emperor Marcus Aurelius, was warmly received.

Marius's personal journey--from the revival of old paganism, to the literary influence of his friend Flavian, followed by the consolations of Greek philosophy after Flavian's death, through Stoicism during his service in Aurelius's court, to the verge of conversion to the new religion, Christianity, before his death--is presented through an intricate web of narrative, essayistic passages, and translations and paraphrases from literary and philosophical works.

Marius's passionate friendships with the poet Flavian and with Cornelius, a Christian, weave a dimension into the book, which is often read as Pater's spiritual autobiography. Besides its poetic prose, the novel revealed subtleties of Pater's vision belied by the caricatures of his earlier work--including a close interest in the varieties of religious experience. Subsequent critics have seen in Marius a prototype of the novels of James Joyce and Thomas Mann.

Later Works

Pater continued writing fiction in this hybrid form--part short story, part essay, part memoir--after completing Marius. His Imaginary Portraits (1887) gathered fictional texts that drew on mythological and historical sources, developing personae that (as in the "imaginary portrait" of Marius) served in part as figures of psychological allegory.

And with Gaston de Latour, set in sixteenth-century France, Pater sought to extend Marius by projecting a trilogy of historical novels. The book, which remained uncompleted when Pater died in 1894, was published with the subtitle "An Unfinished Romance" in 1896.

The last volume Pater saw through the press, Plato and Platonism (1893), is now often regarded purely as prose poetry, though it was greeted respectfully by Plato scholars on its publication. Other papers reflecting Pater's serious interest in Hellenic culture were assembled in the posthumous Greek Studies (1895).

But it is primarily for his commentary on English literature that Pater's reputation as critic survives. The essays on diverse topics collected in Appreciations (1889) include writings on Shakespeare, Browne, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, and Rossetti--as well as an essay on "Style" that serves as an important statement of Pater's aesthetic theory both as critic and as prose artist.


Running throughout Pater's work is a sustained engagement with the idea of culture as both a means and an end to life: The art object serves as a tool for increased enjoyment of our limited run of years, while the Bildung of the artist's own personality and creative powers can be exemplary for our conduct, like the lives of the saints for the faithful.

What his contemporaries took to be a shocking, even perverse license for self-indulgence, in fact was a doctrine that demanded a studious, even somewhat ascetic cultivation of the receptiveness to beauty.

And as Marius the Epicurean puts it, in the most characteristically Paterian way, this is "an art in some degree peculiar to each individual character; with the modifications, that is, due to its special constitution, and the peculiar circumstances of its growth, inasmuch as no one of us is 'like another, all in all.'"

Scott McLemee

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Adams, James Eli. "Gentleman, Dandy, Priest: Manliness and Social Authority in Pater's Aestheticism." ELH 59 (1992): 441-466.

Bendz, Ernst Paulus. Influence of Pater and Matthew Arnold in the Prose Writings of Oscar Wilde. Gothenberg: Wettergren and Kerber, 1914.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Walter Pater: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.

Buckler, William E. Walter Pater: The Critic as Artist of Ideas. New York: New York University Press, 1987.

Donoghue, Denis. Walter Pater: Lover of Strange Souls. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Dowling, Linda. Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Fletcher, Ian. Walter Pater. London: Longmans Green, 1959.

Inman, Billie Andrew. "Estrangement and Connection: Walter Pater, Benjamin Jowett and William Hardinge." Pater in the 1990s. Laurel Drake and Ian Small, eds. Greensboro, N.C.: ELT Press, 1991. 1-20.

Iser, Wolfgang. Walter Pater: The Aesthetic Moment. Trans. Henry David Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Levey, Michael. The Case of Walter Pater. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

McGowan, John. "From Pater to Wilde to Joyce: Modernist Epiphany and the Soulful Self." Texas Studies in Language and Literature 32 (1990): 417-445.

Monsman, Gerald. Walter Pater's Art of Autobiography. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1980.

Seiler, R. M., ed. Walter Pater: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.

Williams, Carolyn. Transfigured World: Walter Pater's Aesthetic Historicism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989.


    Citation Information
    Author: McLemee, Scott  
    Entry Title: Pater, Walter  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 28, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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