Pater entered Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1858, where he studied classics and became associated with Matthew Arnold’s renouncement of religion for cultural studies.
At Oxford, Pater had a love affair with fellow student Ingram Bywater (1840-1914). Pater also had intimate relationships with the painters Simeon SOLOMON and Algemon SWINBURNE in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Pater faced expulsion when indiscreet letters came to the attention of the Oxford authorities, and he was forced to withdraw his application for the poetry professorship vacated by Arnold in 1877.
Pater dedicated his masterpiece, Studies in the History of the Renaissance, to Charles Lancelot Shadwell, who was likely his lover.
The aesthetic of the important and influential Victorian critic Walter Pater reflected a homosexual sensibility.
Among British prose writers of the Victorian era, Pater stands as the embodiment of stylistic elegance. His critical essays--ranging widely over Classical, Renaissance, Romantic, and contemporary artists and writers--are themselves literary works of the first order. William Butler Yeats called Pater's novel Marius the Epicurean (1885, rev. 1892) "the only great prose in modern English."
A close student of German philosophy (particularly the work of Hegel) and well read in the French writers of the period, Pater's criticism and fiction were highly cerebral, yet embraced the purely sensuous dimensions of art and life. From the 1870s through the 1890s, he was regarded by the reading public as a major theorist and practitioner of Aestheticism and Decadence. (Pater himself regarded this identification with some perplexity, though his influence on Oscar Wilde, for instance, was clear).
His stylistic elegance and his dangerous ideas about art's autonomy from morality, combined with rumors of homosexuality at Oxford, where he taught, made Pater's name virtually synonymous with gay sensibility during the late nineteenth century. In 1876, speaking as a guardian of public morals, W. T. Courthope announced: "we repudiate the effeminate desires which Mr. Pater, the mouthpiece of our artistic 'culture,' would encourage in society."
In recent decades, Pater has been rediscovered by critics as one of the most important English sources of literary Modernism.
Pater began contributing reviews and essays to the Westminster and the Fortnightly Reviews during the late 1860s, including pieces on the poetry of William Morris and the prose of Coleridge. In a remarkably candid paper on the great German classicist, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, published in 1867, Pater noted: "That his affinity with Hellenism was not merely intellectual, that the subtler threads of temperament were interwoven in it, is proved by his romantic, fervid friendships with young men."
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.'"
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 www.glbtq.com/literature/pater_w.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date July 30, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates
Studies in the History of the Renaissance by Walter Pater
Hardcover: 232 pages
Publisher: BiblioLife (May 5, 2011)
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