Walter Pater: Origins and Issues
by William F. Shuter
January 1, 2004
Pater’s turning to fiction in his 38th year represented an important moment in both his mental life and his literary activity. “The Child in the House,” the first of Pater’s indirect self-portraits, attempted to gain access to “early experiences of feeling and thought,” and initiated an activity that resembles a self-analysis. The two impulses that characterize the story’s protagonist are the impulse to journey from home and the impulse to look. Both impulses provoke conflicts that can be traced as psychological motives through Pater’s work. Since home is repeatedly associated with maternity, I consider Pater’s varied maternal representations (mythical and fictional), including the description of the Mona Lisa admired by Freud. Ambivalence about the “lust of the eye” is often provoked by some sadistic spectacle, suggesting a primal scene experience. Tracing these motives clarifies the relation between Pater’s literary work and his own mental history.
[T]hey talked, they rode, they ate and drank, with . . . no curious questions as to the essential character . . . of origins and issues.
Pater, Gaston de Latour
Second Thoughts: The Retrospective Pater
When the uninhibited and imprudent Wilde of 1894 heard of Pater’s death in the summer of that year, he remarked, “Was he ever alive?” Those who met Pater in later life knew a celibate Oxford don living an uneventful life with his two sisters, who, like Pater, never married. A. C. Benson described him as “most averse to action,” Edmund Gosse as disliking “exciting travel,” and Arthur Symons as hating “every form of extravagance, noise, mental or physical, with a temperamental hatred.” Vernon Lee found him “lymphatic, dull, humourless” (98). William Sharp thought he had never been “joyously young,” and Frank Harris believed he had lived with, and died from, a “weak heart” (84, 141). George Moore thought he suffered from an “abnormal fear of himself and of his listener” and Vernon Lee that he was “avowedly afraid of almost everything” (108, 100). Sharp observed his “vague dread of impending evil”; Gosse noted that when traveling he left a hotel if anyone spoke to him (94, 190). Katherine Bradley lamented that he “defers to the moral weaknesses of everybody. Deplorable!” ( In one of his later essays Pater himself wrote in apparent commendation of Raphael that “he seems still to be saying, before all things, from first to last, "I am utterly purposed that I shall not offend.”
More perceptively, however, some who knew the older Pater recalled him not as a man who had never lived but rather as a man apprehensive lest he be observed to be alive. Quite consistently what they noted in him above all was his “reserve.” Always courteous and kind, he “declined flatly to be ‘drawn out,’” writes “One who knew him” (Seiler, 174). This reserve was particularly frustrating to those who, like Wilde had responded to the exhilarating exhortations of the “Conclusion” to Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance and to the seductive cadences of Pater’s prose. When he heard that Richard La Gallienne was to meet Pater, Wilde felt obliged to warn him:
[H]e never talks about anything that interests him. He will not breathe
one golden word about the Renaissance. No! he will probably say
like this: "So you wear cork soles on your shoes? Is that really true?
And do you find them comfortable? How extremely interesting” (Seiler
With the passage of time it certainly became increasingly difficult to discern behind the bland mask he had assumed, the imprudently assertive author of his first book. But in fact the Pater who had become so observant of convention and deferential to custom had once affirmed “what is only conventional, has no real claim upon us.” The Pater who later became an admirer of Sparta’s rigorous, conservative discipline had once told his readers that”[w]hat we have to do is to be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions” (Renaissance, 189). The older Pater who told an undergraduate he “read very little now except the Bible, the Prayerbook, and the Missal” and who gave friends the impression he might take orders had had his first book attacked by the Bishop of Oxford in his Visitation Sermon and had been heard by Mrs. Humphry Ward to maintain that “no reasonable person could govern their lives by the opinions or actions of a man who died eighteen centuries ago” (Seiler, 170, 179, 192, 29). The Pater who seemed so apprehensive of giving scandal or offense had once been the close friend of Simeon Soloman, a gifted painter arrested for gross indecency, and had himself been the subject of scandal at Oxford because of his inappropriate relationship with an undergraduate. The younger Pater demonstrated he was “alive” in ways the older Pater did not.
What observers called “reserve” we can only call inhibition, but what we call “inhibition” (from inhibere=“to hold in,” “hold back”) Pater preferred to call ascêsis. The word means “exercise,” “practice,” “training” and could therefore be used of a profession or mode of life requiring training. The verb from which it derives meant initially “to work raw materials” or “to form by art.” In the sense of training it was properly used of an athlete. Pater grew increasingly fond of the word ascêsis and its associated senses (“we need that Greek word”), speaking of the “charm” and the “beauty” of ascêsis and employing the word in different contexts to characterize a personal, artistic, or cultural quality he particularly admired. He glosses it variously as “reasonable exercise,” “military hardness,” “discipline,” “forming habit,” “Dorian order,” and “[s]elf-restraint, or skilful economy of means.” It is a distinctively male virtue “far remote from feminine tenderness,” counteracting the natural tendency of a sensibility that is “rich, florid, complex, excitable.” In Pater’s use the primary referent of the word is an athlete in training, but he applies it by extension to the soldier, the monk, and the scholar. He associates it with abstinence and “strenuous self-control” but not with renunciation (Marius, I: 25). It represents a force held tensely in reserve. ascêsis represented for Pater a holding in, a holding back, an inhibition therefore, and its unresolved tension or stress is apparent in one way or another throughout his later work, where, however, he remained attentive to what was inhibited as well as to what effected the inhibition. It is, I believe, this unresolved tension that gives us the sense of something in motion beneath the surface of that work and that gave Sharp, who knew him, the sense that Pater’s austerity came from “no timidity or coldness or sterility of deep feeling” (Seiler, 91).
Whether it represented a case of inhibition or of the practice of ascêsis, the fact is that in his career as a publishing writer Pater exhibited a recurrent pattern of impulse yielding to restraint, of assertion followed by retreat. The most dramatic instance was his suppression of the offensive “Conclusion” in the second edition of The Renaissance, an omission he later attributed to his apprehension that “it might possibly mislead some of those young men into whose hands it might fall” (Renaissance, 186). In 1872 he withdrew an unidentified but already printed essay from Studies in the History of the Renaissance, to the chagrin of his publisher, who complained of the reduction in the volume’s length. In October of 1878 Macmillan was prepared to publish a collection of his essays that Pater was eager to see printed as soon as possible, but Pater quickly gave up the idea of publication despite the protests of his publisher. In the fall of 1892 Pater’s article “The Doctrine of Plato” was submitted to the Contemporary Review, printed, withdrawn, again approved for publication, and withdrawn for the second and final time. Despite these equivocal recessive gestures with regard to publication, Pater’s literary productivity was never interrupted or impaired, and in the absence of diaries, journals, or what Gosse called “impulsive unburdenings of himself to associates” (there are some letters but as Symons says, “almost always with excuses or regrets in them”), it is principally in Pater’s writings that we must look for an answer to Gosse’s question, “[W]hat was passing behind those half-shut, dark-grey eyes?” (Seiler, 197, 127, 195)
What was passing was largely retrospection. The older Pater speaks often of the “second thoughts” or “afterthoughts” that arise on reflection or in retrospect. They represent not so much new thoughts replacing earlier thoughts as a conscious reconsideration or reassessment of earlier convictions. The “very genius of second thoughts” was embodied for Pater in the self-scrutinizing Montaigne, whereas the historian Brantôme, “with no misgivings” and “careless what the issues may be,” is characterized as “incapable . . . by nature and training of any kind whatever of ‘second’ thoughts.” In a chapter of Marius the Epicurean titled “Second Thoughts,” Marius reconsiders the Epicurean or Cyrenaic philosophy of which he has thus far been an adherent. In retrospect, such a youthful “ardent and special apprehension” seems not so much false as “one-sided,” a “half-truth (Marius, II:19).” Indispensable as a phase in the development of the self, it is with the passage of time “leveled down, safely enough, . . . by the weakness and mere weariness as well as by the maturer wisdom, of our nature” (II: 19). Retrospection does not repudiate first thoughts; rather by a series of “harmonisings and adjustments” it makes room for them in a less imperious and exclusive form (II: 19).
Pater’s movement from first to second thoughts is thus not a movement from one certitude to another but from certitude to a more modest approximation of truth and to the accommodation of other and wider possibilities. This movement is reflected in his prose style. Reviewing Miscellaneous Studies, a posthumous collection that included both Pater’s earliest essay (“Diaphaneitè”) and his last (“Pascal”), Edward Everett Hale, Jr. noted that the “clear-cut and authoritative” assertions of Pater’s earlier writing gave way in his later work to “approximations to the right idea, second thoughts, assumptions, queries, rather than questions.” The heavily qualified, concessive, appositional syntax of Pater’s later work gives the sense not of firm conviction but of continuous and tentative exploration, while the stacked verbal alternatives in his unpublished manuscripts suggests a reluctance to make a final choice of wording. Unlike first thoughts, second thoughts are never final or definitive. The dialectical method of Plato’s dialogues will, according to Pater, “to the last . . . have its diffidence and reserve, its scruples and second thoughts,” as it was Montaigne’s genius for second thoughts that made him a doubter, doubt being “the proper equivalent to the infinite possibilities of things” (Gaston, 53). To deny “a certain great possibility,” namely the truth of the Christian faith, would be, for Montaigne, “only to limit the mind, by negation” (Gaston, 58). In his 1888 review of Mary Ward’s Robert Elsmere, Pater characterized those who are “quite sure” Christianity is false as “unphilosophical through lack of doubt.” Second thoughts also seems to have suggested to Pater the possibility of second chances. In his Introduction to The Purgatory of Dante Alighieri, he speaks of the “world of peaceful second thoughts” represented by the medieval doctrine of Purgatory.
Second thoughts, unlike first thoughts, incline strongly to the conventional. In “The Bacchanals of Euripides,” Pater says of Euripides that as he grew older and shuddered more often with the fear of death, he came “in the sum of probabilities” to trust to “accustomed ideas, conformable to a sort of common sense regarding the unseen” as “the whole of wisdom”: “It is a sort of madness, he begins to think, to differ from the received opinions thereon.” The second thoughts of Marius conclude with the recognition that according to an economy of “loss and gain” he would lose access to a body of rich experience if he were to refuse to make concession to the “venerable system of sentiment and idea” that is “actually in possession of human life” (Marius, II: 28, 26, 27). Pater makes even larger claims for the necessity of such a concession in an unpublished, untitled manuscript, parts of which, according to his own annotation, he thought of including either in an academic lecture or in the “Second Thoughts” chapter of Marius. The manuscript argues that deference to custom may serve as universal or general “principles of morals,” since in deferring to custom we are in fact deferring to the collective moral experience of mankind. However, the abstract notion of humanity must be translated into the thought of a community of individuals if it is to exercise a personal authority, and the way in which Pater personalizes this community illustrates the inhibitory character of second thoughts. In Pater’s imagination the authoritative community to which we defer becomes the “dark society of the dead” acting “on the living with the force of an increasing majority” (15). The force is essentially a “deterrent” or “negative influence,” since to abstain is “after all the more important function in the guide of conduct,” and the thought that deters is that of “those averted or saddened faces growing suddenly strange to us refusing their recognition of us in what was not their way” (24v, 13). It was as if we supposed both our “outward acts” and our “inward feelings” to be observed by some “ideal spectator”: “It is like the authority of parents idealized” (23, 24). The particular abstentions enforced by such second thoughts are suggested in the essay on Prosper MeAÅãLrimeAÅãLe, where Pater tells us that first thoughts discover what is “forcible and effective in human nature,” in particular, “carnal love.” What Mérimée got from his female correspondent, however, was only her “second thoughts,” the thoughts “of a reserved, self-limiting nature, well under the yoke of convention.” First thoughts, in this case at least, represent sexual impulse against which second thoughts serve the individual as a defense.
A less apparent but equally characteristic and certainly more ambitious mode of introspection is represented by Pater’s rereadings of his own earlier work. These retrospective rereadings are actually more extreme than his retrospective second thoughts because they refuse to acknowledge any change at all in his thinking. As I have observed elsewhere, “Pater wrote as if it were possible to advance to new ground without abandoning the old, and when asked where he stood, he replied by denying he had moved at all.” What I have been calling rereading might easily be called misreading or more precisely as retrojection, that is, the ascribing of an earlier date to a later event or condition, but it was the object of Pater’s rereadings to represent his history as a history of continuities rather than of discontinuities. As he observed in Plato and Platonism, “[T]he seemingly new is old also” (8). In the case of Pater, imagery and language from his earlier writings often recur in his later work, where, however, their import is altered by their new context. What is particularly remarkable about these recurring elements is that in one way or another they themselves illustrate or describe the phenomenon of recurrence. In Plato and Platonism, his last book, Pater wrote that “the seeds of almost all scientific ideas seem to have been dimly enfolded in the mind of antiquity; but fecundated, admitted to their full working prerogative, one by one, in after ages” (18). The passage, in very slightly different form, had appeared originally in “Coleridge’s Writings,” Pater’s first published essay. The image of a later structure incorporating fragments of earlier structures occurs repeatedly in Pater’s later work. He employs it, for example, to describe Plato’s intellectual debt to earlier thinkers and the curriculum of Emerald Uthwart’s school, which was constructed by its medieval founders “from fragments of pagan thought, as, quite consciously, they constructed their churches of old Roman bricks and pillars.” Marius observes that the house of the Christian Cecilia is constructed almost exclusively of fragments of older buildings, acquiring thereby a “new and singular expressiveness” (Marius, II: 96). In the body of Pater’s work, however, these passages themselves represent a recurring image that appeared initially in his Winckelmann essay, where Pater referred to early Christian art as “building the shafts of pagan temples into its churches.”
Among the images for the recurrence of the past that recur in what I call Pater’s rereadings of his own earlier work the most remarkable are the Platonic conceptions of metempsychosis and anamnesis. Plato, Pater tells us in Plato and Platonism, was hardly the originator of the idea of metempsychosis. He derived it from Pythagoras, who was himself anticipated by earlier poets. Comparable ideas were entertained in the even older civilizations of India and Egypt and “still exercise their authority over ourselves.” For metempsychosis is not merely a “constant tradition” but “an instinct of the human mind itself . . . which will recur” (Plato, 7, 73). And recur it does in Pater’s own writings, in “On Wordsworth” (1874) and in “Leonardo da Vinci” (1869), where Mona Lisa, who is “older than the rocks among which she sits” and who “has been dead many times,” is said to embody the old “fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences” (Renaissance, 99). Anamnesis or reminiscence was Plato’s term for the experience of recovering knowledge that we once possessed but that somehow slipped from memory, which, Plato argued, is the way what we call learning actually takes place. Pater expounds Plato’s notion in Plato and Platonism, but he had already used the term in “Coleridge’s Writings” and had already attributed the activity it describes to Winckelmann (“[H]e seems to realize that fancy of the reminiscence of a forgotten knowledge hidden for a time in the mind itself”), repeating language he had used even earlier in “Diaphaneitè,” his earliest piece of prose (“Winckelmann,” 88-89). Unlike metempsychosis, anamnesis was more than a figure for Pater. In Plato and Platonism he described it as a “matter of experience” and as “a leading psychological fact”: “it is impossible to seek for, or be taught, what one does not know already” (62, 65, 62). Taking it, as Pater encourages us to take it, to represent the activity of rereading, anamnesis confounds the distinction between what is early and what is late in his history, since what he seemed to learn was only what at one time he already knew. Certainly Pater’s rereadings of his own mental history attribute a much earlier origin to what many who knew him supposed characteristic of him only in later life (a reverence for traditional religion, for example), but what to his younger friends seemed a change, to Pater himself might well have seemed familiar.
The importance of origins, their persistence and therefore their explanatory power, became increasingly evident to Pater as he grew more retrospective. We have already noted that when explaining Plato’s thought, Pater found it necessary to derive its principles from Plato’s philosophic predecessors, but according to Pater, the origins of Plato’s philosophical idealism are even more remote. The Ideas of Plato represent a recurrence of what the “modern anthropologist” calls “animism,” a mental habit that still “survives” in Wordsworth, Shelley, Goethe, and Schelling (Plato, 169). The modern anthropologist who gave its special anthropological sense to the word “survival” was Edward Burnett Tylor, with whose Primitive Culture (1871) Pater was familiar as early as his essay on Wordsworth (1874), in which he spoke of a “survival” in Wordsworth of that “primitive condition . . . in which all outward objects alike . . . were believed to be endowed with life and animation.” Pater continued to speak of animistic survivals, but survivals of another sort became equally frequent in his later work. Noting the animal-like traits of Gaston de Latour’s young friends, Pater is reminded of the anthropologist who tells us of the “‘survival’ of a period when men were nearer than they are, or seem to be now, to the irrational world” (Gaston, 18). After characterizing Mérimée’s characters as representatives of “a humanity as alien as the animals,” Pater asks, “Were they so alien after all? Were there not survivals of the old wild creatures in the gentlest, the politest of us?” (28) A human tendency to revert to the condition of animality recurs as a theme in Pater’s studies of Greek religion and mythology. In Euripides’ Bacchae, a play about the Greek worship of Dionysus in which “an earlier world might seem to survive,” Euripides “lets the darker stain show through.” In Pater’s fantasies of the return of the Greek gods the appearances of Apollo and Dionysus are accompanied not only by a heightened artistic activity that resembles a premature renaissance but also by a sadistic depredation of innocent creatures in “Apollo in Picardy” and by a frenzied act of mutilation and dismemberment in “Denys l’Auxerrois.” For the more retrospective Pater, “survivals” may uncover the darker underside of a revival.
The origins that engaged Pater’s retrospective interest were, however, even more often psychological than anthropological. In “Raphael” (1892), for example, Pater reminds us that the great painter of Madonnas lost his mother at an early age. In his 1890 essay on MeÅLrimeÅLe he attempts to trace the source of MeÅLrimeÅLe’s “rooted habit of intellectual reserve”:
Corrected for some childish fault, in passionate distress, he overhears half-pitying laugh at his expense, and has determined, in a moment, never again to give credit—to be for ever on his guard, especially against his own instinctive movements. Quite unreserved, certainly, he never was again (13-14).
In his 1878 essay on Charles Lamb, a writer whose work Pater describes as “mainly retrospective” and with whom he felt an affinity so deep as to resemble identification, he characterizes Lamb’s criticism of older writers and artists as both insightful and congenial: “Tracking, with an attention always alert, the whole process of their production to its starting-point in the deep places of the mind,” Lamb discerns their “but half-conscious intuitions.” But it is in Pater’s fictional or imaginary portraits even more than in his criticism that his retrospective imagination is most clearly introspective and most psychologically acute. Once again attributing to Lamb a characteristic impulse of his own, he speaks of Lamb’s “desire of self-portraiture”: “What he designs is to give you himself, . . . but must do this, if at all, indirectly, being indeed always more or less reserved, for himself and his friends” “Charles Lamb,” Appreciations, 117). Pater’s own indirect self-portraits represent, in fact, the most psychologically insightful products of his retrospective imagination, largely because they are so carefully attentive to the early past of their subjects.
Pater came relatively late to fiction, undertaking it for the first time in his thirty-eighth year, although he and his sisters had long been in the habit of fantasizing a family of fictional relations in whose actual existence visitors supposed Pater almost believed. His first prose fiction, a study of the boyhood of Florian Deleal, its principal character, was printed under the title
I. The Child in the House
Writing to his editor, Pater explained, “It is not, as you may perhaps fancy, the first part of a work of fiction, but is meant to be complete in itself” (Letters, 30). He added, “I call the M.S. a portrait, and mean readers as they might do on seeing a portrait, to begin speculating—what came of him?” (30) The implication is clear: paint the boy and it becomes possible to infer the character of the man. In a manuscript note to himself written at some later time, Pater records what reads like a retrospective recognition: “Child in the House: voilà, the germinating, original, source, specimen of all my imaginative work” (Letters, xxix). Pater could hardly have recognized “The Child in the House” as the initiatory model for his later fictions without also acknowledging that in these later fictions he consistently depicts his protagonist by imagining a childhood for him. Certainly Pater’s richly and significantly detailed accounts of childhood occupy a privileged place in the memory of many readers of his fiction. But recalling that what Pater was practicing was an art of indirect self-portraiture, we may give a further sense to his reference to “The Child in the House” as “germinating” and as a “source.” To the extent (and it is a considerable extent) that Pater’s fiction derives its material from his own childhood experience, it reflects his retrospective understanding of his own origins as a writer and as a man. In this sense we may therefore speak of the retrospective character of his psychological imagination. And without ignoring the extremely close connection between his fictional and his critical writing, we may also take Pater’s “imaginative work” in large part as an exercise in psychological introspection and his turning to the medium of fiction as a decisive moment in his mental life as well as in his literary activity.
Our effort to trace Pater’s retrospective psychology may begin where his note encourages us to begin, with “The Child in the House” and with its retrospective mode of narration. The boyhood of Florian Deleal is not narrated directly but rather as it is recaptured in memory by Florian himself. While walking on a particularly warm day Florian encounters an old man whom he helps with his burden and whom he engages in conversation. At one point the man names the place where Florian spent his earliest years but which he has never since revisited, and that night Florian dreams of the place with “great clearness,” especially of the house in which he had been a child. As recorded by Florian, however, the memories occasioned by his dream represent something more than nostalgic reminiscence; they further the literary project he had already in mind, the “noting, namely, of some things in the story of his spirit—in that process of brain-building by which we are, each one of us, what we are” (173). The “sensible things” we experience in our early childhood may at the time seem insignificant, but “as we afterwards discover,” they affect us “indelibly,” fixing themselves on our “ingenuous souls, as ‘with lead in the rock for ever,’ giving form and feature, and as it were assigned house-room in our memory, to early experiences of feeling and thought, which abide with us ever afterwards, thus, and not otherwise” (177). To follow one’s longstanding associations in order to regain access to one’s “early experiences of feeling and thought” in the conviction of the enduring significance of such experiences is to undertake an activity for which we have no more apt name than self-analysis.
Readers of “The Child in the House” have always sensed that the story of Florian Deleal is in some sense Pater’s own story, and this supposition is encouraged by Pater himself. He tells us it had been “almost thirty years” since Florian had seen the house in which he spent his childhood (173). He left it “about the age of fourteen years,” making him about 40 when he undertook to write the story of the brain-building of his spirit (195). Pater was 39 when he published “The Child in the House.” The story concludes when at about twelve Florian left his “old house, and was taken to another place” (195). In 1853, when Pater was thirteen, his family moved from Enfielf, where he had spent most of his childhood, to Canterbury, where he was to attend school. We do not know enough about Pater’s childhood (or about the most important persons in it) to confirm as factual many of the seemingly insignificant but nevertheless indelible incidents to which Pater attends so carefully: his being taught to read by his mother while he observed a lime tree outside the window, his poring over the illustrations in the family Bible, his watching his little sister terrified by a spider, his sharp pain from the sting of a wasp, his coming upon the grave of a small child. With regard to one matter at least we can distinguish the extent to which the experience of Florian corresponds and fails to correspond with Pater’s experience. Like Pater Florian lost his father early. He had heard of the death of his father, a soldier who died of a fever in India, though not in action, but Florian remembered his father teaching him the Latin name for the wall-flower. Pater’s father, a surgeon, died early in 1842 in Stepney, London’s squalid east end, where he had lived with his family and practiced. Pater was two and a half.
“The Child in the House” does not however represent itself as an account of the past factually accurate in every respect. Florian’s dream recalls to him the “true aspect” of the house in which he spent his childhood, but is a dream that performs “the office of the finer sort of memory, bringing its object to mind with a great clearness, yet, as sometimes happens in dreams, raised a little above itself, and above ordinary retrospect” (172). Thus, the story is less a record of the past as it actually occurred than as it is remembered, and memory has its vicissitudes. Is it so unlikely, for example, that a boy who had lost his father at a very early age should remember him as a more impressive figure than he actually was? In the story, as in our experience, we cannot immediately distinguish accurate memories of a childhood event from subjective memories of that event or later memories retrojected into the past from early memories that screen still earlier memories. However, in the spirit of Pater’s retrospective psychology we are able to identify those memories (objective or subjective) with which powerful and enduring associations are connected. In the case of Pater himself we may therefore follow those instances in which material represented as a childhood memory recurs as a theme of his writing and, to a considerable extent, of his life. To the retrospective psychologist who poses curious questions of origins and issues and who asks, “What became of him?” the great difference between the younger and the older Pater proves more apparent than real.
Movement and the Maternal Home
Two gestures of youthful assertiveness are recalled in “The Child in the House,” and both are prematurely inhibited. The first gesture is that of movement from a familiar to an unfamiliar place. Having spent his whole childhood in the same house, the twelve-year-old Florian left it with “a great desire to reach the new place” but was forced to return to fetch a pet bird that had been left behind. Imagining the bird’s desperation at being abandoned, he searched the empty house in “stormy distress”:
and at last through that little stripped white room the aspect of the place touched him like the face of one dead; and a clinging back toward it came over him, so intense that he knew it would last long, and spoiling all his pleasure in the realization of a thing so eagerlyanticipated (196).
And it is in an “agony of home-sickness . . . capriciously sprung up within him” that he departs for the new place (196).
Pater left his family’s house in Harbledown, near Canterbury, in October of 1858 for Oxford at the age of nineteen. His state of mind at the time was reported by John Rainier McQueen, Pater’s close friend at school who went up with him to Oxford. In a letter to his grandmother McQueen wrote: “[T]he change from home to college has not been effected without a great wrench to my feelings, but I am in much better spirits than Pater, who is now sitting opposite to me weeping. He seems to have suffered intensely, and his sufferings do not appear to diminish.” Thomas Wright, who quoted this letter in his biography of Pater, relied exclusively on McQueen for his account of this episode. Therefore, though Wright’s description of Pater’s demeanor at the time may well be heightened, it at least records the impression he received from listening to McQueen. Wright describes Pater as “slouching” and “frightened”: “Anybody might have thought he had just committed manslaughter” (I: 145). Pater certainly recovered and grew to regard Oxford as his second home, and the external facts of his subsequent travel history hardly suggest that he suffered from a crippling travel inhibition. But the conclusion of “The Child in the House” did not foresee that Florian would never move again, only that strongly ambivalent feelings would be aroused by movement from a familiar place.
The most consequential trip undertaken by Pater as an adult was his first visit to Italy at the age of 26, the first fruits of which were the Studies in the History of the Renaissance, the book that first made him known and for which he is still best remembered. He dedicated the volume to Charles Lancelot Shadwell, his traveling companion and reputedly “the handsomest man in the University” (Wright, I: 218). The anticipatory exhilaration that preceded this visit is evidently recalled in “An English Poet” (1878). As the poet waited impatiently “to depart southwards, and visit . . . those foreign lands, so much longed after in the company of his chosen friend,” it seemed as if his intellectual life had enlarged “to something ripe and full, like the enrichment of the youthful body itself in its propitious years” (“The English Poet,” 446). Travel continued to stimulate Pater’s creativity long after his first trip to Italy. He returned there in the winter of 1882, this time to Rome, while writing Marius the Epicurean, which is set largely in that city. His visit to Milan, Bergamo, and Brescia in 1889 yielded the material for “Art notes in North Italy” (1890), itself undertaken as he told Arthur Symons, “by way of prologue to an Imaginary Portrait,” the unfinished “Gaudioso the Second,” set in Brescia (Letters, 114). Pater was particularly fond of the north of France, which he toured often with his sisters. The opening pages of “Denys L’Auxerrois” (1886) record a tourist’s impressions of the medieval towns of Troyes, Sens, and Auxerre, the “physiognomy”of Auxerre generating the central character of this imaginary portrait. Returning from his last trip to France in October of 1893, he wrote William Caxton: “I have been studying some fine old churches, of which my mind is rather full just now” (Letters, 143-44). That trip was the stimulus not only for “Notre-Dame d’Amiens” and “Vézelay” but for “Apollo in Picardy,” Pater’s last piece of fiction.
If this record of Pater’s travels betrays no evidence of ambivalence, the same cannot be said of his later writings. Marius certainly feels the mentally stimulating effects of physical movement on his first journey to Rome. Motion brings “his thoughts to systematic form . . . . [T]he structure of all he meant, its order and outline, defined itself” (Marius, I: 164). He senses that “by the exact and literal transcription of what was passing then around him,” he might arrest “the desirable moment as it passed”(I:164). “He seemed to have grown to the fullness of intellectual manhood on his way hither.” I: 164). But Marius’s initial sense of exhilaration is succeeded by an abrupt reaction in which “all journeying from the known to the unknown” seems “like a child’s running away from home—with the feeling that one had best return at once, even through the darkness” (I: 165). His “misgivings” become “actual fear” when a large rock dislodged from the slope falls next to his heel, rousing “out of its hiding-place his old vague fear of evil—of one’s ‘enemies’” (I: 165, 166). Though hopeful in prospect, journeys in Pater’s later writings are never propitious in their outcomes. His young fictional protagonists often travel, always, like Pater on his first visit to Italy, from north to south. The female narrator of “The Prince of Court Painters” (1885) remains at home mentally following the movements of her beloved Antony Watteau, whom she knows to be consumptive. His desire to travel she calls a “strange caprice,” a “restlessness . . . symptomatic of this terrible disease.” Pathology of another sort is the subject of the last and darkest of Pater’s fictions. Prior Saint-Jean, the protagonist of “Apollo in Picardy,” travels into the unfamiliar countryside to recover his health. Through this change of place he experiences not only physical rejuvenation but also mental stimulation, illuminations and insights he attempts to capture in his treatise, but his illuminations prove delusional, symptoms of a psychotic divorce from reality from which he is released only at death.
The manner in which the older Pater narrates active movements is in its way as ambivalent as the movements themselves. The fate of Pater’s characters is often determined by some impulsive act, a sudden eruption of violence, or a natural catastrophe, but the narrator of their fate is never himself in animated motion. (Edmund Gosse reported that Pater disliked “too rapid hurrying” from one site to another [Seiler, 190].) Forward momentum is repeatedly impeded by the narrator’s retrospective point of view or forestalled by his narrative anticipations. “Apollo in Picardy” begins with an account of Prior Saint-Jean’s manuscript, incomplete because the author’s mind failed, and “Duke Carl of Rosenmold” (1887) begins with the unearthing of the remains of Carl and of the young woman who was to be his bride. In “Emerald Uthwart” (1892), Uthwart’s history becomes in Pater’s narration a history of actions aborted before they occur. As Pater tells his story, Uthwart leaves his university before he studies there, is court-martialed before he disobeys orders, and rests in his grave before he has lived through his childhood and youth. The narrative of Uthwart’s life is fittingly static because the shape of his life is finally circular: he returns to his childhood home to die.
Uthwart’s is hardly the only circularly shaped life in Pater’s works, where death is as frequently and as firmly conjoined with the desire for home as it is with the desire for travel. The conjunction occurs for the first time in Studies in the History of the Renaissance, where Pater describes the sixteenth-century French poet Joachim du Bellay as “languishing with homesickness” in Rome and returning home to die at the age of 35 (131). The English poet dying of consumption in a “feverish southern land” feels a “great reaching out of appetite” for the native beauty of Cumberland, where he was raised. In “The Child in the House,” Florian reflects that those who die abroad are consoled by “the thought of sleep in the home churchyard, at least—dead cheek by dead cheek, and with the rain soaking in on one from above” (178-79). If leaving home is conceived of as an offense meriting an early death, it would seem that the offense might be undone by returning home, where at least one might die at peace. Such a fantasy would be consistent with Florian’s memory of his childhood home as a place where “the sense of security could hardly have been deeper” and which therefore it would be safest not to leave (180-81). But though Florian’s sense of home was “peculiarly strong,” that place in his mental life he recalled as home evoked very contrary associations (178). It was certainly at home that he first experienced a deep sense of security, but it was also at home that he first experienced a threat to that security. The child’s house was also a house haunted by specters of the dead, as the child himself was haunted by the fear of death. Coming upon another child’s open grave, he felt for the first time the “physical horror of death, with its wholly selfish recoil from the associations of lower forms of life, and the suffocating weight above,” and the dead soldier father he once imagined as a strong protecting presence he could now think of only as “a few poor, piteous bones, and above them, possibly, a certain sort of figure he hoped not to see” (191).
Pater himself had reason to associate the memory of home with the thought of death. In 1842, when Pater was not yet three, his father died, aged 45, at the East London house in which he lived with his family. Three years later, his father’s brother, also a surgeon, died at the age of 45 from a fall on the staircase of his home. The next year his godmother’s grandson, also named Walter, died at the age of six months, and it may have been his small grave that Pater recalled in “The Child in the House.” Pater’s father’s mother, who lived with the family, died at the age of 84, when Pater was eight. His most grievous loss was that of his mother, who died at the age of 53, when Pater was fourteen.
Of the numerous childhoods represented in Pater’s fiction it is the childhood of Marius, a young Roman patrician, that most faithfully reproduces the facts of Pater’s own family life. Marius, like Pater, lost his father at a very young age, and Marius remembered him only as “a tall, grave figure above him in early childhood” (Marius, I: 10). He knew, however, that his father was a member of a “local priestly college, hereditary in his house” (I: 15). (The corresponding hereditary office in Pater’s family was that of a surgeon, surgeons being licensed by the Royal College of Surgeons.) Marius thought of his dead father with awe, but recalling the “arbitrary power” a Roman father exercised over his son, also with “a not unpleasant sense of liberty” (I: 16). Although he later learned of his father’s domestic pieties, it was the boy’s relation to his mother that determined his actual experience of home:
And as his mother became to him the very type of maternity in things, its unfailing pity and protectiveness, and maternity itself the central type of all love;--so, that beautiful dwelling-place lent the reality of concrete outline to a peculiar idea of home, which throughout the rest of his life he seemed, amid many distractions of spirit, to be ever seeking to regain. (I:22)
But Marius’s mother, like Pater’s, was a widowed wife (Pater’s mother lost her husband after only eight years of marriage). To the young Marius, her “languid and shadowy life” seemed “like one long service to the departed soul” (I: 17). Observing her devotion to her husband’s memory, Marius came early “to think of women’s tears, of women’s hands to lay one to rest, in death as in the sleep of childhood, as a natural want” (I: 21). (Pater, Gosse records, died at the age of 54 “on the staircase of his house, in the arms of his sister” [Seiler, 192].) Marius’s mother died, “an event which for a time seemed to have taken the light out of the sunshine,” shortly after his first trip from home, “his greatest adventure hitherto”(I: 41, 30). She died (like Pater’s own mother) away from home, and “through some sudden, incomprehensible petulance there had been an angry childish gesture, and a slighting word, at the very moment of her departure, actually for the last time” (I: 41). Had she not sent for him at the last he knew he would “look back all his life long upon a single fault with something like remorse, and find the burden a great one” (I: 41). In his biography of Pater, Wright cited this passage from Marius the Epicurean, noting, “I have proof this is autobiographical” (Wright, I: 74) According to Wright, it was an event that Pater “never after called to mind without self-reproach,” implying that, unlike Marius, Pater was not reconciled with his mother before her death (I: 74). McQueen, who met Pater for the first time at the King’s School a year after his mother’s death, remembered him as a “shabby, forlorn lad, hanging, solitary and sad, about the Norman staircase” (Seiler, 227).Marius certainly, and Pater most probably, retained the memory of his mother’s death for a long time. At “the midway of life” (Marius was the very age at which his father died, as was Pater when he wrote these words), he revisits his family’s tomb (Marius, II: 208). Next to the burial urn of his mother he notices the urn of a servant boy who died about the time of her death and imagines that this boy “of about his own age . . . . had taken filial place beside her there, in his stead” (II: 206). Behind this fantasy would seem to lie the conviction that Marius owes a death to the woman to whom he owed his life.
Unfortunately we have no independent testimony as to the personality of Pater’s mother or the nature of his relationship with her, but what evidence we have indicates that she was the most important figure in his early life, that his relationship with her was conflicted in ways that as an adult he struggled to resolve, and that his conflict is reflected in the ambivalence with which he responded to the thought of leaving his childhood home and of returning to it. No doubt it is because they represented an area of particular conflict that mothers are more frequent than fathers in Pater’s writings and that the mother-son relationship recurs as a theme. No doubt too the recurrence of this theme represents something more than the reaffirming of a defense, since Pater’s revisitings of the past are neither rigid nor monotonously repetitious. Rather, they resemble the succession of subjective and objective memories, of apparently discordant representations, and of more recent and more archaic fantasies that might be elicited in the course of an analysis. Pater had many motives for writing, but among them was certainly the desire to ascertain as best he could how he came to be what he was.
It was Freud who first identified the maternal representations in Pater’s 1869 essay on Leonardo da Vinci. In Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910), Freud referred approvingly to Pater’s essay, quoting among other passages Pater’s statement about Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa”: “From childhood we see this image defining itself on the fabric of his dreams” and proposed that because Pater’s “confident assertion . . . seems convincing,” it “deserves to be taken literally.” In Freud’s literal reading what Pater was asserting was “that the smile of Mona Lisa del Giocondo had awakened in [Leonardo] as a grown man the memory of the mother of his earliest childhood.” (XI: 114). Moreover, Freud quotes the opening sentence of the most famous passage Pater ever wrote, his reverie (it can hardly be called a description) on the “Mona Lisa”: “The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire” (XI: 110). Since Freud leaves no doubt as to what he understands the perennial object of men’s desire to be, we may reasonably conclude that he read Pater’s reverie as a maternal representation. Read in this way Pater’s celebrated passage becomes a synoptic vision of the diverse ways in which men have represented the single object of their desire, the assembled imaginings of those who have been at one time or another her sons or her lovers. Exhibiting “the soul with all its maladies,” her representations can be recognized in “[a]ll the thoughts and experience of the world . . . the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the mysticism of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves” (Renaissance, 98). Throughout time it is she who has occasioned men’s “strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions” (98).
Of these fantastic reveries probably none has proven more evocative, and provocative, than Pater’s own:
She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants. (99)
The reverie concludes with the only explicit allusion to her maternity: “as Leda, [she] was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes” (99). One immediately notices the omissions. She has been a mother but never a wife (those Eastern merchants hardly sound marriageable), and certainly not a grieving widow. She has borne daughters, but never a son, a striking omission since, as Yeats noticed, the fitting Christian counterpart of Leda is not Saint Anne but the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. The most conspicuous absence is, of course, the absence of maternal feeling. Motherhood meant no more to her than “the sound of lyres and flutes.” Pater’s Mona Lisa has had innumerable incarnations, but a Madonna is not among them.
Freud, however, detected a more affectionately attentive mother figure among Leonardo’s maternal representations. He knew that Leonardo was the illegitimate child of a peasant girl and of Piero Antonio, who married another woman in the year of Leonardo’s birth, and Freud supposed that in the emotional life of Leonardo’s disappointed mother her son came to fill the role of his absent father. Leonardo’s early erotic feeling for his mother was of course repressed; nevertheless, it was with her rather than with his absent father that he identified, the principal objects of his adult affection being the attractive apprentices and pupils whom he loved as his mother had loved him. It was thus the excessive intensity of his early erotic experience that inhibited Leonardo’s masculine identification. It is this etiology of Leonardo’s apparently sublimated homosexuality that Freud has in mind when he speaks of the “unbounded tenderness” as well as of the “menace” in Mona Lisa’s smile, and when he cites Pater, who, Freud says, “writes very sensitively” of “the unfathomable smile, always with something sinister in it, which plays over all Leonardo’s work” (XI: 115, 110). Like Pater, Freud notes the presence of this ambiguous smile in Leonard’s paintings of Bacchus and John the Baptist, androgynous youths smiling with downcast eyes “as if they knew of a great achievement of human happiness, about which silence must be kept” (XI: 117). Freud’s shrewd guess is that it is “a secret of love” and that in these figures Leonardo represented his early infatuated love for his mother and the fantasy of a blissfully intimate union with her (XI: 117).
Repeatedly citing Pater with approval, Freud wrote as if he were making explicit what Pater had only suggested or implied, offering an analytic interpretation of what Pater had somehow intuited. No doubt he also noticed the several instances in which Pater observed matters central to his own argument: that at one point Leonardo “had almost ceased to be an artist”; that the “smiling of women” had “touched his brain in childhood”; that his principal emotional attachment was to a beautiful male apprentice; that the “treacherous smile” of Leonardo’s “Saint John the Baptist” “would have us understand something far beyond the outward gesture or circumstance” (Renaissance, 84, 82, 91-92, 93). And he could hardly have overlooked Pater’s emphatic generalization: “A feeling for maternity is indeed always characteristic of Leonardo” (90). As a careful reader, Freud certainly sensed what other readers have sensed, that Pater’s essay on Leonardo displays a strong affinity with its subject. Had Freud known Pater’s own history he would presumably have been able to analyze the grounds of this affinity, and had Pater read Leonard da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, he would presumably have recognized it for what it is, a study of those “early experiences of feeling and thought, which abide with us ever afterwards.”
If Pater failed to represent Mona Lisa as a Madonna, it was certainly not because the figure of the Madonna lacked significance for him. She appears for the first time in his 1870 essay on Sandro Botticelli, where, however, she is represented according to a “distinct and peculiar type” (Renaissance, 44). Wan, colorless, and lacking in nobility, Botticelli’s Madonnas nevertheless “attract” and “come back to you” when the Madonnas of Raphael and Fra Angelico have been forgotten (44). As a maternal figure, the Madonna of Botticelli is remote, distracted, and singularly unconnected with the child she holds. In “The Magnificat,” attending angels try to rouse her from her “dejection,” but in vain: “Her trouble is in the very caress of the mysterious child, whose gaze is always far from her” (44). Her true children are those “among whom, in her rude home, the intolerable honour came to her” (45). Gerald Monsman has described this passage as the “most transparently autobiographical” of Pater’s maternal representations, a memory of his own “languid and shadowy” mother, unable to love or understand her gifted child and preferring his “more active siblings,” particularly his brother, William. In fact we do not know enough about Pater’s mother to determine if she more resembled the indifferent Madonna of Botticelli or the seductively over-attentive mother (smiling but with something “sinister” in her smile) identified by Freud. Most probably Pater experienced her as both (which she may well have been). Thus, though I accept Monsman’s interpretation of the passage, I am unwilling to give this maternal representation the privileged position he affords it. It is only by attending to all of Pater’s apparently inconsistent maternal representations that we can identify the conflicting feelings that thoughts and memories of his mother evoked.
In any case, whether his mother was excessively or insufficiently attentive or somehow both, Pater presumably felt anger towards her, and, as we have reason to believe, the memory of his anger was associated with the thought of her death. But a son’s unacknowledged desire for his mother’s death can be represented only in disguised form, and for Pater as a student of Renaissance art the material for such a representation was provided by the pathetic and moving figure of a mother grieving over the body of her crucified son. This Mater Dolorosa is the subject of the concluding pages of Pater’s 1871 essay on Michelangelo, who represented her often and in many forms. To illustrate Michelangelo’s treatment of the subject Pater describes not the well known Pieta` in St. Peter’s in which the body of Christ lies outstretched on the lap of his mother bur rather a less familiar drawing in which Christ’s slumped body occupies the space between his mother’s spread knees. Among the many things that this strikingly unconventional image may have suggested to Pater was that it represented a son returning in death to the space from which he first entered into life. Of course the Pieta` reverses the situation of Pater’s own experience, a mother bereaved of her son instead of a son bereaved of his mother. But it is precisely the psychological function of reversal to defend against such unacceptable feelings as a son’s desire for his mother’s death, and in the Pieta` the feelings as well as the situation have undergone reversal. There is no apparent aggression in this image of a mother holding her dead son. There is only pity.
Pity, particularly pity for the dead, which Pater here identifies as a distinguishing sentiment of Michelangelo’s art, was also a recurrent theme in Pater’s own subsequent writing. He traces the early origins of this sentiment in the psychologically autobiographical sections of “The Child in the House.” To the young Florian studying David’s drawing, the face of Marie Antoinette on her way to execution seemed “to call on men to have pity,” and he resolved to return to it if he were ever “tempted to be cruel” (183). Pity, according to Pater, inhibits the impulse to cruelty. This was also Freud’s view. Assuming that cruelty precedes the capacity for pity in a child’s development, Freud speculates as to the precise relation of the later capacity to the earlier impulse. Pity, he supposed, is not a sublimated form of cruelty but rather a “reaction-formation” against that instinct, that is, an unacceptable sadistic wish is repressed and replaced in conscious awareness by an excessive display of compassion or pity. In “The Child in the House,” Pater acknowledged the close connection between the sentiment of pity for the dead and feelings of another sort. Florian pitied the condition of the dead, but sometimes he thought of them returning with “no great goodwill” to the homes of the living, and then “[h]e could have hated the dead he had pitied so, for being thus” (191-92). When Pater writes that the “subject of [Michelangelo’s] predilection” is pity, not only “the pity of the Virgin Mary over the dead body of Christ” but also “the pity of all mothers over all dead sons,” we recognize that he is speaking as well of what was to become the subject of his own predilection.(Renaissance, 74). And it would not surprise us were this emphatic weighting of the sentiment of pity to display on occasion evidence of the conflict in which it originated.
Pater called the Renaissance an “outbreak of the human spirit” (Renaissance, xxii). Certainly, during the years he was engaged with it, from 1867 to 1873, he himself exhibited an assertiveness and a daring he was never again to display. The price proved too high. His first book was met with censure from the university pulpit, and Pater was passed over for a university proctorship he expected by right of seniority, losing thereby a substantial emolument. Moreover, in 1874 an Oxford undergraduate was sent down, in part at least, because of his inappropriate relationship with Pater, whose name remained morally suspect for some time in certain corners of the university. How Pater experienced the forces inhibiting his efforts at self-assertion we can only infer. We know, however, that by 1875 the student of the Renaissance had turned his attention to the subject of Greek mythology. “Demeter and Persephone,” the first of his mythological studies, was delivered as a two-part lecture in 1875 and published in the Fortnightly Review in 1876. In the final paragraph of the study he made an uncharacteristically personal admission: “[F]or me, at least, I know it has been good to be with Demeter and Persephone, all the time I have been reading and thinking of them.” He compared the attractiveness of these “goddesses of the earth” to the attractiveness of “cool places, quiet houses, subdued light, tranquillising voices,” presumably maternal. Turning in thought to the principal mother figure of Greek mythology, Pater imagined himself retreating to a restful place, a place that resembles on the one hand the sick room of a convalescing child and, on the other, the sacellum or private chapel he would later describe as the sanctuary of Marius’s grieving mother.
In “Winckelmann,” the earliest of his Renaissance studies, Pater had written “There is no Greek Madonna; the goddesses are always childless,” but the Greek Madonna he had overlooked in 1867 he had encountered by 1875 in the British Museum (Renaissance, 173). The 4th-century B. C. statue of Demeter discovered by Charles Newton in 1856 seemed to Pater to represent Demeter “the seeker . . . wandering over the world in search of the lost child,” and he recognizes in the figure “something of the pity of Michelangelo’s mater dolorosa.” This Greek Madonna proves, however, to be even more complex than her Christian counterpart.
Assuming the role of “student of origins,” Pater speculates as to the origins of the myth of the earth as a mother (111). The myth originated, he supposes, in a “primitive,” “half-conscious,” “instinctive” stage of mental life, a “survival” of which can still be traced in men of today (87). To the earliest worshippers of Demeter every experience or observed phenomenon of the natural world was apprehended as some “feature, or characteristic of the great mother” (101) They inhabited, in other words, a world of maternal representations. The illustrations offered by Pater suggest the often dubious or ambivalent character of these representations. He speaks of the earth’s
sinister caprices . . . , its droughts and sudden volcanic heats; . . . its dumb sleep, so suddenly flung away; the sadness which insinuates itself into its languid luxuriance. (98)
Certainly, the great mother’s recorded titles, functions, and legends are evidence that her representations were often incompatible or contradictory. Humanity’s benefactress in innumerable ways, she was sometimes seen as Demeter Erinnys, the Fury, “the goblin of the neighborhood, haunting its shadowy places” (105). Contemplating the refined purity of the countenance of Demeter on later Greek coins, Pater is reminded of Pausanias’ account of the archaic Black Demeter, a cult statue of a seated woman with the head of a horse from which emerged serpents and other creatures. According to one of her legends, Demeter had attempted to escape the lust of Poseidon by changing herself into a mare, but Poseidon continued to pursue her, forcibly mounting her in the form of a stallion. As Pater observes, it is part of the interest of the myth of Demeter, as of other Greek myths, that the gods sometimes “have their doubles, at first sight as in a troubled dream, yet never, when we examine each detail more closely, without a certain truth to human reason” (100). The truth that Pater had in mind is evidently psychological truth.
Like the Christian mater dolorosa, Demeter was a mother grieving for her lost child. The child in this case was a daughter, but Pater is also attentive to those mythical male figures who in one sense or another might be described as Demeter’s sons. The most fortunate of them was Demophoon (Triptolemus in some accounts), a mortal child whom Demeter tenderly nursed and sought to make immortal. The fates of the other sons of Demeter were more distressing. Pater notes that in some later sources Demeter was identified with Cybele, “the wilder earth-goddess of Phrygia” (128). The crude myth of the Great Mother Cybele that Pater knew from Pausanias but does not himself retell reads like a web of psychologically archaic fantasies and fears. She was originally male as well as female, but the gods cut off her male organ, from which grew an almond tree. A nymph who placed nuts from this tree in her dress became pregnant. Her son was called Attis, an extraordinarily beautiful youth with whom Cybele fell in love. Enraged at his marriage to a king’s daughter, she drove him mad, and in his madness he castrated himself (the mythical origin of Cybele’s eunuch priests). After suffering the intimidating consequences of his own assertiveness, Pater found it good to spend time thinking of Demeter, but among the thoughts that came into his mind while on (and in) retreat with her was this story of a mother’s incestuous desire and a son’s self-castration. According to the recollections of those who knew Pater in later life and observed his consistently cautious and unassertive demeanor (“avowedly afraid of almost everything”) his retreat proved irreversible.
Having chosen the principal mother figure of Greek mythology for the subject of his first study of myth, Pater chose for the subject of his second study (“A Study of Dionysus” ) the Greek divinity who could most plausibly be represented as a son. Thought of as the youngest of the gods, Dionysus was, Pater supposes, the object of that “allowable fondness” afforded to the last born child. Of the various legendary episodes involving Dionysus Pater repeatedly prefers to emphasize those associated with his sonship. The marriage of Dionysus to Ariadne, which Pater concedes was the frequent subject of ancient art, he does little more than mention, but he dwells at length on the devotion of Dionysus to his dead mother, Semele, and on his determination to see her properly honored. An Etruscan artist, we are told, represented him as a “white, graceful, mournful figure, weeping, chastened, lifting up his arms in yearning affection towards his late-found mother” (40-41). Of particular interest to Pater are the various accounts of the god’s double birth, prematurely from the womb of Semele and then from the thigh of his father, Zeus, or, according to the Orphic myth, first from the union of Zeus and Persephone and, in a second birth, from Semele after he was hacked to pieces and eaten by the Titans while still a child. Pater consistently represents the infant god as unprotected and vulnerable: “a seven months’ child, cast out among his enemies, motherless,” and vulnerable to his enemies he remained even when grown, a tender, delicate, and “woman-like” god and a suffering victim (25).
Conceived as Pater conceived him, Dionysus evidently resembles Christ: the son of a divine father and a mortal mother, the gentle benefactor of humanity who suffers before his ultimate triumph. Like the story of Christ, the story of Dionysus is a story of pathos, and like the figure of the Virgin Mary, the figure of Semele evokes pity, in her case the “human pity over the early death of women” (45). (The epitaph on the grave of Pater’s mother, Maria, spoke of her as “Leaving a family to sorrow for her loss” [Wright, I: 77]) As a student of origins and of survivals, Pater notices that this motif of pathos impressed certain later Christian poets, who in some cases adapted passages of Euripides’ Bacchae when treating the Passion of Christ, but he is equally attentive to indications that a more primitive conception of Dionysus has been softened or masked in the recorded myths. What, for example, lies behind Homer’s story that the young Dionysus fled in terror from the violent pursuit of Lycurgus of Thrace? Pater’s answer lies partly on etymology--lukos is the Greek word for “wolf”—and partly on psychology, for Pater assumes as self-evident that the interpreter of myth will recognize the psychic mechanism we call projection. The wolf, described as one of Dionysus’s “bitterest enemies” is “a phase, therefore, of his own personality in the true interpretation of the myth” (47). The youngest of the gods in the sense that he was the last of the gods to be accepted in the cities of Greece, Dionysus therefore exhibits in some ways an earlier stage of religious development. Behind the “beautiful soft creature” of later art and legend we may still discern a being “almost akin to the wild beasts,” “an enemy of human kind,” driven by his “own fierce hunger and thirst,” a being who survives in popular belief as the werewolf (47). In ancient Greece itself, Pater notes, the practice of human sacrifice survived longest in connection with Dionysus, both in fact and in symbolic ritual: the priest sacrificing a kid to Dionysus was ritualistically pursued to signify “the still surviving horror of one who had thrown a child to the wolves” (48).
The tender mother-son relationship of Dionysus and Semele also has its double “as in a troubled dream” in the relationship of Agave and Pentheus in Euripides’ Bacchae, the subject of Pater’s second essay on Dionysus, “The Bacchanals of Euripides” (1878). In the play Dionysus vindicates the slandered name of his mother and punishes Pentheus, who has prohibited the celebration of the god’s mysteries, by maddening the women of Thebes, among them Agave, mother of Pentheus, who tears her son to pieces in her frenzy. “[M]other and murderess” of her son, she displays his severed head as a trophy of her skill in hunting. After recounting the action of the play, Pater examines Euripides’ version of the myth as an analyst might interpret a troubled dream. By virtue of what Pater calls a “sophism,” and we would call a defense, Euripides has contrived a “softened version” of the myth’s actual import. A “complete” conception of Dionysus requires us to make “a certain transference or substitution” (78). “[M]uch of the horror and sorrow of Agave, of Pentheus, of the whole tragic situation, must be transferred to him if we wish to realize in the older, profounder, and more complete sense of his nature that mystical being of Greek tradition” (78).
Dionysus Omophagus—the eater of raw flesh, must be added to the golden image of Dionysus Melichius—the honey-sweet, if the old tradition in its completeness is to be, in spite of that sophism, our closing impression, if we are to catch, in its fullness, that deep undercurrent of horror, which runs below, all through the masque of spring and realize the spectacle of that wild chase, in which Dionysus is ultimately both the hunter and the spoil. (78-79)
It is very likely that Pater’s experience of rejection and hostility in the mid-seventies drew him to the suffering god of Greek mythology and that writing about him, he was able, in Billie Inman’s words, “to indulge his sense of victimization.” From the essays themselves, however, it is evident that Pater’s sense of identification extended beyond victimization to what he called “the complete physiognomy” of the god (“Dionysus,” 43). It is also evident that he was equally curious about the early origins and the later issues of the “darker side” of this “double god” with whom he identified (42). Pater repeatedly insists we can retrieve the primitive origins of the Dionysus myth only by imagining ourselves inhabiting an earlier mental world, but we can imagine that earlier time in the history of the race only by recalling an earlier time in our own mental life. As Pater conceives him, the primitive Dionysus belongs to that very early time in the mother-child relationship in which sadistic rage takes the form of biting and tearing, a time in which originate later fantasies of devouring and being devoured.
Dionysus and other Studies was the title of a collection of essays that in the fall of 1878 Pater offered to Alexander Macmillan, who had published his first book. It was to include the two essays on Dionysus and the two-part essay on Demeter as well as essays on non-mythological subjects. Macmillan gladly accepted the proposal, promising to do all he could to satisfy Pater’s desire that the book appear early. But after the book had been set up in type and special paper had been ordered, Pater wrote abruptly canceling publication. Macmillan begged him to reconsider (“There is no reason so far as I have seen for your apprehension.”), but in vain. Sending Pater a bill for the printing expenses of the “discarded Dionysus,” he wrote, “I cannot but feel he is rather harshly treated by his father” (89). The aborted project cost Pater ₤35, equivalent to ₤1,385.65. This sudden retreat from an eagerly anticipated course of action is characteristic but perplexing, and several more or less plausible motives have been suggested. Pater’s letter to Macmillan mentions only the “many inadequacies” he noted while reading proofs and insists that “it would be a mistake to publish them in their present form” (Book Beautiful, 87). In fact, of the ten essays in the volume, eight had already been published in periodicals, and the remaining two were published subsequently in Macmillan’s Magazine. Pater’s apprehension about the essays’ “present form” may refer, therefore, not to the essays themselves but to the form they assumed when collected in a single volume. His apparently groundless anxiety may well have been aroused by his sense that read in uninterrupted sequence, his mythological studies exhibited more nakedly than he had consciously intended the intense ambivalence of a mother-son relationship and probed too deeply into its origins in a more primitive stage of mental life.
Pater’s anxiety could only have been heightened when he read the proofs of “Charles Lamb,” another of the essays he proposed to include in the collection. Toward the end of that essay Pater had recalled the horrible event that altered the course of Lamb’s life: in a fit of insanity his sister Mary stabbed their mother to death. Pater had described Lamb’s
escape from fate, dark and insane as in old Greek tragedy, following upon which the sense of mere relief becomes a kind of passion, as with one who, having narrowly escaped earthquake or shipwreck, finds a thing for grateful tears in just sitting quiet at home, under the wall, till the end of days (Appreciations, 122).
The “old Greek tragedy” can hardly be other than that of Elektra and Orestes, who together contrive the death of their mother Clytemnestra. But in that tragedy it is the brother, not the sister, who commits, and suffers the penalty for, matricide. Dealing with his anxiety involved Pater in a double inconsistency. On the one hand, he inexplicably withdrew a book he had been impatient to publish less than a fortnight earlier. On the other hand, he did in fact publish separately what he refused to publish together. His anxiety indicates a psychic conflict between an aggressive impulse and the feelings of guilt that accompanied it, while his inconsistent suppression of Dionysus but not of its disjecta membra seems like a form of psychic compromise that acknowledged both motives without resolving the conflict between them.
The mythological studies of Demeter and Dionysus were collected for the first time by Charles Shadwell, Pater’s literary executor, in the posthumous volume, Greek Studies (1895). Pater himself never found the “better and more complete form” for these studies, although in 1889 he did collect a number of the non-mythological essays intended for Dionysus and other Studies in Appreciations. He had hardly lost interest in the subject of mythology however. The same year saw the separate publication in Macmillan’s Magazine of “The Bacchanals of Euripides” and of a new mythological fiction also based on a Euripidean subject, “Hippolytus Veiled.” The sub-title of “Hippolytus Veiled” describes it as “A Study from Euripides,” and while Pater does follow his source in large part, it is in his substantial departures from Euripides’ treatment, his additions, his suppressions, and his consequent alterations of emphasis that we recognize the significance Pater found in the myth of Hippolytus.
Pater’s fiction preserves the core of the legend dramatized by Euripides: Hippolytus, a chaste young man devoted to Artemis, rejects the sexual overtures of his step-mother, Phaedra; repulsed, she accuses him to Theseus, her husband, of attempting to rape her. Theseus, believing her accusation, invokes a curse on his son, causing his death. But while Euripides begins his drama at a late point in the story, with Phaedra, after much struggle consenting to disclose her guilty passion for Hippolytus, Pater, interested in origins as well as issues, begins much earlier. Characteristically, he provides Hippolytus with a childhood, an early history that, like the early histories of his other fictional protagonists, determines the course of his future life. In his only allusion to Hippolytus’s early life, Euripides mentions that he was reared by Pittheus, king of Troizen, but in the childhood imagined by Pater for Hippolytus there is no room for a father-figure, only a mother. Pater’s Hippolytus was brought up by his mother, Antiope, an Amazon queen, whom Theseus defeated, wedded, and then abandoned. For Pater, Antiope becomes a principal figure in her son’s story, which is narrated largely from her point of view. She is above all a maternal figure, but her maternity is deeply troubled. Alone and rejected by her husband, she gives birth to her son with a “burst of angry tears,” but her anger recedes before her “maternal sense,” which quickly drives out “every other feeling.” Solicitous care for her son becomes “her religion, the centre of her pieties” (172). Pater, himself the son of a husbandless mother, has in effect intruded into the Hippolytus myth a mother-son relationship resembling his own. We are reminded of the forsaken and unsatisfied mother described by Freud. By taking her son in place of her husband, she prematurely arouses his sexuality.
The relationship of mother and son, so central to Antiope’s emotional life, proves equally central to the emotional life of her son when the narrative adopts his point of view. The mother he imagines, however, is not his natural mother but a “new divine mother” (171). He undertakes to restore a deserted chapel of Artemis and becomes a zealous student of the history and attributes of his mysterious goddess. At other times and in other places she has been a “forbidding deity,” exacting “a cruel and forbidding worship” (166). According to one version of her story, she was the daughter not of Leto but of Demeter, and the sister not of Apollo but of Persephone, whom she resembles as a goddess of the dead. To Antiope she is a “dubious” or “two-sided” goddess of “sinister intentions” (171). To Hippolytus, however, she is a “virgin mother,” without husband or lover, to whom he devotes “his immaculate body and soul” (169).
The sexualized mother denied and displaced by the image of a virgin goddess returns in the person of Hippolytus’s step-mother, who sees and desires him when he makes his ill-fated journey from home to Athens. She is a more obviously aggressive figure for Pater than for Euripides, who represents her as struggling with her guilty passion and as taking her own life to avoid the shame of having disclosed it. Pater, on the other hand, represents her as aroused and challenged by the chaste self-possession of Hippolytus, who, however, defeats her active campaign of seduction, leaving her furious with resentment and the desire for revenge. Whether Hippolytus is, in fact, as insensible to provocation as he appears is hardly clear. In an episode entirely of Pater’s invention, Hippolytus picks up Phaedra’a wedding ring from the floor where her children were playing with it, and puts it on his own finger for safe-keeping. The significance of this action, noted with warm interest by Phaedra, escapes the conscious awareness of Hippolytus, who notices the ring on his hand only when in bed at home. He removes it and places it on the finger of the image of his virgin goddess, wedding her “once for all” (179). His self-possessed chastity is certainly troubled by Phaedra’s angry “terrible words,” which, though not specified, presumably accuse him of suspicious intimacy with his beloved goddess (179). He falls ill, struggling with “feverish creations of the brain,” imagining his heart bound to the prayer wheel with which Phaedra invoked the assistance of Aphrodite to seduce him (183). His own goddess loses her “grave quietness,” and his own religion seems “to turn against him” (183).
In his study from Euripides, Pater in effect imposes another conflict on that dramatized by Euripides. Whereas Euripides ends his drama with the reconciliation of the penitent Theseus and the dying Hippolytus, Pater returns the dying Hippolytus , dragged by his own horses, to Antiope, who, another mater dolorosa, counts his wounds, pains, and disfigurements. The conflicted father-son relationship at the heart of Euripides’ drama is replaced by Pater with the conflicted mother-son relationship of Hippolytus and his several maternal relationships. For Euripides, the fate of Hippolytus was sealed when he arrogantly rejected Aphrodite and the power of eros she represents. The fate of Pater’s Hippolytus was sealed when he journeyed from home in search of success and recognition and is consummated when he returns to his mother in death.
The autobiographical elements in “Emerald Uthwart,” Pater’s penultimate fiction, have long been recognized. Written after a return visit to the King’s School at Canterbury, to which he had been sent as a boy, it employs the place as the setting of Uthwart’s early school experience. Like Pater, Uthwart proceeded from Canterbury to Oxford. Unlike Pater, however, Uthwart left Oxford to enlist in the army. Although, of course, Pater remained at Oxford in fact, in imagination he often visited other places, ancient Sparta, for example, for whose highly militarized mode of life he expressed considerable and somewhat surprising admiration in Plato and Platonism. He wore what observers described as a thick “military” moustache, and Mary Ducleaux surmised that he “saw himself as a military monk” (Seiler, 67). Uthwart’s brief military career ended unluckily. Court-martialed and disgraced for an uncharacteristically rash act of disobedience, he died prematurely of a festering gun-shot wound. The unauthorized attack on the enemy for which he was tried represented “the sole irregular undisciplined act” of his docile and submissive life; nevertheless, at the moment it afforded an “intensely pleasant, . . . glorious sense of movement renewed once more; of defiance, just for once of a seemingly stupid control” (230, 234).
Uthwart’s mother appears at the end and at the beginning of her son’s story. In manifest “distress, though perfectly self-controlled” she assists the surgeon who removes the gun ball from Uthwart’s dead body (245). But in Uthwart’s childhood she appears in a somewhat different light: “the youngest of four sons, but not the youngest of the family!—you conceive the sort of negligence that creeps over even the kindest maternities, in such case” (202). (Pater himself was one of four children, the younger of two brothers but not the youngest child.) There was no longer a place for him at home, and he was forced, the first in his family, to go away to school “chiefly for the convenience of others” (202). When he does leave it is “with something like resentment in his heart, as if thrust harshly away, sent ablactus a matre” (201-202). The Latin phrase means “weaned from one’s mother.” Pater had already alluded to the idea in “An English Poet,” an earlier autobiographical fiction, when he spoke of the “odd yearning” of a child “early taken from the breast” (442). We are also reminded of Freud’s observation: “[F]or however long [the child] is fed at its mother’s breast, it will always be left with a conviction after it has been weaned that its feeding was too short and too little.” In “Emerald Uthwart” the image of weaning seems to have been suggested by the same biblical psalm from which Pater quotes in another place to describe Uthwart’s humility: “not to be ‘occupied with great matters’” (218). The psalm Pater associated with Uthwart is Psalm 131:
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.
Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
Weaned and quieted perhaps, yet as Pater indicates, not without resentment.
There are no female figures in the monastic world of Pater’s final fiction, “Apollo in Picardy,” but maternal allusions occur at two critical points of the narrative. Shortly before his death, his mind deranged by his experience in a remote region to which he has made the only journey of his life, Prior Saint-Jean gazes into the blue distance, recalling that blue is “the colour of Holy Mary’s gown on the illuminated page, the colour of hope, of merciful omnipresent deity.” (Maria, we remember, was the name of Pater’s mother.) At the beginning of the story we learn something of his early history: “he had been brought to the monastery as a little child; was bred there; had never left it” (145). Like other of the never satisfied sons in Pater’ writings, he felt he had been prematurely ablactus a matre.
Like his English poet, Pater knew that “odd yearning for the maternal character,” but the mother he imagined was a distressingly contradictory figure (442). She is either overly attentive and seductive or distracted and inattentive, chaste and virginal or capable of copulating with a horse, emasculating and castrating or a grieving mater dolorosa. About the actual character of Pater’s mother we can only conjecture. A mourning widow, Maria Pater may well have been an inconsistent mother, at times over-attentive and at times distracted, in neither case meeting the needs of her son. The mother of Marius, whom Pater characterized as “languid and shadowy” has been taken to represent her. Shadowy she admittedly remains to us who know so little about her, but in her son’s imagination she was hardly an insubstantial figure. The mother figures imagined by Pater, shifting starkly from gratifying to frustrating or antagonistic representations, may well reflect conflicting feelings originating early and never resolved. Assertive movement, frustrated, aborted, or retreated from, represents a recurrent theme of Pater’s life as well as of his writing, where it appears repeatedly as a fatal journey from home and where home is regularly associated with, and defined by, the presence of a mother. The psychological conflict suggested by the image is a conflict between the desire of self-assertion and the anxiety of separation. In the one recorded instance of interaction between Pater and his mother, he exhibited “an angry childish gesture, and a slighting word, at the very moment of her departure, actually for the last time.” The gesture was no doubt a source of continuing guilt, but what the departure of his mother had reactivated in the adolescent Pater was presumably a “childish” fear of her leaving him. Pater’s writing was not, however, solely the product of his pathology. It was also the product of his incessant effort to understand the origins and issues of his mental history, and among his insights was a recognition of the possibility that the defensive splitting of mental representations might be healed. Particularly in his studies of Greek mythology he constructed portraits of a mother figure who was both beneficent and destructive and of a son figure who was aggressive as well as loving. The mother of Uthwart, who seems to refuse her breast to her infant and sends him away to school, returns as a mater dolorosa at the time of his death. The son in “An English Poet” thinks of his mother with both resentment and gratitude. Taken “early from the breast,” he suffers from “a sort of unsatisfied longing” his whole life long, but his gift of verbal expression, Pater’s own greatest strength, is said to be “one of those elemental capacities which the child takes for the most part from his mother” (442, 444).
Read as an inquiry into the origins of Pater’s mental history, “The Child in the House” records the associations attached to another of his early impulses and foresees their troubled issue. Whereas one impulse was the impulse to move, the other was the impulse to look. The earliest impressions from without that disturbed the “quiet of the child’s soul” were primarily visual (181). Fascinated by the sight of “bright colour and choice form,” the child was subject early to the “’lust of the eye,’ as the Preacher says, which might lead him one day, how far! Could he have foreseen the weariness of the way!” (181) His memory of the flowering red hawthorn with which he filled his arms is a memory of sensuous stimulation and early sexual excitation: “[F]or the first time he seemed to experience a passionateness in his relation to fair outward objects, an inexplicable excitement in their presence, which disturbed him, and from which he half longed to be free” (186). The adult Pater’s intense responsiveness to visual impressions was observed by those who knew him, and visual art was of course the subject of his first and of later studies.
For the child, however, visual impressions were frightening as well as arousing: “For with this desire of physical beauty mingled itself early the fear of death—the fear of death intensified by the love of beauty” (189-90). In the child’s mind, desire for visual gratification was inextricably associated with “an almost diseased sensibility to the spectacle of suffering” (181). The story records a number of such spectacles observed by the boy with strong feeling: the drawing of Marie Antoinette readied for execution, the face of his little sister terrified at the sight of a spider, the disfigured appearance of a dying boy, the sight of a small child’s open grave. Whether or not these incidents represent actual experiences from Pater’s own childhood, they indicate that in Pater’s memory early visual stimulation was accompanied by an apprehension of something frightening. We know that there was one sight in particular that continued to provoke keen distress even in the adult Pater. William Sharp observed his horrified reaction to a dying snake while walking in an Oxford wood. On another occasion Pater’s “gaze was attracted” by a gleaming ornament worn by Sharp’s wife, but when she removed it to show it to him and Pater perceived it was a flexible silver serpent that seemed to writhe around her arm, he “drew back, startled, nor would he touch or look at it.” It perturbed him she should wear anything so “barbaric” (Seiler, 94).
Sharp did not doubt that it was Pater’s own fear of snakes that he attributed to the protagonist of Marius the Epicurean. In the passage Sharp was thinking of Marius recalls seeing snakes breeding on a warm day in early summer. Afterwards he “avoided that place and its ugly associations, for there was something in the incident which made food distasteful and his sleep uneasy” (I: 23). The “painful impression” revived on later occasions in Rome when he watched African showmen display their writhing serpents. He wondered at his repugnance and tried as best he could to understand it, concluding only that the sight of the breeding snakes was “like a peep into the lower side of the real world” and that he recognized there “a humanity, dusky and sordid and as if far gone in corruption, in the sluggish coil, as it awoke suddenly into one metallic spring of pure enmity against him” (I: 23, 24). But he is also reminded of St. Augustine’s observation in his Confessions that though the troubles of children may be dismissed by older people as little, they are really great. It makes little difference if the sight of snakes breeding was remembered or only imagined by Pater. Indeed, it becomes even more telling if Pater imagined the sight of this sexual coupling as the origin of his fascinated repugnance. The unmistakably sexual character of his description—the sudden springing awake of the sluggish coil, the writhing bodies of the serpent—provokes the question: Had Pater as a small child seen, in fact or in fantasy, something else to excite this association between visual sexual arousal and threat?
If Pater had actually observed sexual intercourse between his parents, it would have been when he was very young, no older than two and a half, but as Freud noted, it is precisely at a very early age that a child will have the opportunity to observe intercourse between his parents, who suppose him to be too young to understand or remember what is taking place. A young child observing such a scene would receive no more than obscure but powerful impressions that could be understood only much later, and, of course, given a child’s natural sexual curiosity, he might fantasize what he had not actually observed. Observed or fantasized, the excited observation of adult intercourse may in some cases prove traumatic. To the child it can seem an act of violence involving injury. Identifying with both parents he may experience both sadistic and masochistic feelings. Of the role of this actual or imagined experience in Pater’s adult fantasy life we know only what we can infer from the products of his imagination. Spectators rather than actors of life, Marius and Gaston, the protagonists of his two most extended fictions, struggle with what Pater calls “the lust of the eye” and what we may describe as the observer’s excited response to a sadistic spectacle.
In both novels the principal site of this contest is something designed to attract and hold the attention of the eye, a spectaculum. In the experience of Marius the spectaculum took the form of the Roman circus. Ever a “follower of the bodily eye,” he is compelled by this public spectacle of cruelty to acknowledge to himself, “This, and this, is what you may not look upon!” (I:241; II: 243). But at this point the narrative, which has consistently adopted the point of view of Marius (the novel’s full title is Marius the Epicurean: His Sensations and Ideas), leaves us momentarily uncertain as to whether he does or does not look. His Christian friend, Cornelius, who serves as his “outwardly embodied conscience,” has withdrawn from his place in the amphitheatre, and Marius is said to be “wholly of the same mind” with him, but at a later point we learn he remained for hours (I: 233) In the absence of his “outwardly embodied conscience,” Marius recalls Flavian, an earlier friend. What Cornelius disdains to look upon Flavian would have watched with an eager appetite for every detail of the performance, and it is this recollection of Flavian that introduces a description of the spectacle. It is a spectacle of cruel and useless suffering inflicted in the first place on animals “artificially stimulated and maddened to attack each other” (I: 238). Pregnant animals are preferred so that spectators may observe the sight of young creatures escaping from their mother’s torn body. But anachronistically for the time of Aurelius in which the novel is set, Pater imagines as well the spectacle of artfully contrived human suffering. A condemned criminal made to impersonate Icarus is suspended in the air before he falls into a pack of hungry bears. Another, assuming the part of Scaevola, is made to place his hand in the fire until it is consumed. Still another, cast as Marsyas, is skinned alive:
It might be almost edifying to study minutely the expression of his face, while the assistants corded and pegged him to the bench cunningly; the servant of the law, waiting by, who, after one short cut with his knife, would slip the man’s leg from his skin, as neatly as if it were a stocking. (I: 139)
What was not to be seen is reproduced by the visual imagination in shocking and hideous detail.
The episode concludes with Marius’s reflection that it is morally impermissible to practice or to tolerate such cruelty. But why is it impermissible even to look upon it? In this section of his novel Pater was doubtless thinking of Augustine’s account of his young friend Alypius. Compelled to be present in the amphitheatre, Alypius resolved not to watch the cruel spectacle. But at a loud cry from the spectators he opened his eyes and “so soon as he saw that blood, he therewith drunk down savageness; nor turned away, but fixed his eye, drinking in frenzy, unawares, and was delighted with that guilty fight, and intoxicated with the bloody pastime.” Pater clearly implies it is impossible to observe such a spectacle without experiencing the sadistic pleasure of vicarious participation. He does not, however, tell us how it is that the sight of what one is not supposed to see can exercise so despotic a power over the imagination. A retrospective psychologist might suppose that such a sight recalled another scene in which signs of unusually intense pleasure accompanied what seemed a repeated infliction of pain.
Like Marius, the protagonist of Gaston de Latour, Pater’s uncompleted second novel, is “a creature of the eye,” but even more than Marius, Gaston remains enthralled by the cruel spectacle around him, unable to take his eyes from the actors in it (30, 121, 134). Observing the royal figures at the center of the French Wars of Religion, he imagines himself watching an irresistibly fascinating but disturbing theatrical spectacle of comely but deceptive appearances, of shifting alliances and allegiances, and of confused, uncertain, or mixed motives in “an age of wild people, of insane impulse, of homicidal mania” (34). The historical drama reached a krisis or turning point in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre in which thousands of Huguenots trapped in Paris were slaughtered. The horrors of the massacre are not recounted in detail, presumably because Gaston himself was not a witness to them, but the narrative does visually render another cruel spectacle—that of a public execution. Raoul, a “delicately made” peasant who in his devoted service to his master, Jasmin, has killed a nobleman, is to be broken on the wheel (106). Commoners crowd into the center of the square, while the more privileged “sight-seers” observe the spectacle from shaded windows (108). The young Raoul is brought onto the scene humbly submitting to his rough handling “as passively as a child already dead” (106). The spectators watch as he is bound to a great fixed wheel (“like a rose on the trellis”), as an iron bar crushes in turn his legs, his extended arms, his stomach, his exposed breast, and as his body “with every limb broken,” is left hanging to die (109).
William Sharp, a particularly insightful friend of Pater, wrote that “[i]n that serene, quiet, austere, yet passionate nature of his . . . , there was, strange to say, a strain of Latin savagery” (Seiler, 95). By way of illustration Sharp mentions Pater’s description of two violent deaths. The “singularly fair” protagonist of “Denys L’Auxerrois” performing in a popular pageant is attacked by a mob of frenzied spectators who dismember his body and tear off fragments of his flesh to wear in their caps. In “Apollo in Picardy,” a young monastic novice is killed by a discus “sawing through the boy’s face, uplifted in the dark to trace it, crushing in the tender skull upon the brain” (168). Pater’s strain of savagery has been ignored or misrepresented even by recent writers willing to explore the formerly unacceptable topic of Pater’s sexuality. But Pater’s sexuality cannot be divorced from his savagery. In his imagination they were inseparably fused. His sadistic fantasies may well have originated in early childhood; in his adult life they issued in the sadistic products of his imagination. The consistent object of his sadistic imagination was the youthful male body, becoming most desirable in death or in a state resembling death, when it proved most vulnerable to the scrutinizing gaze.
The autobiographical “The Child in the House” recalls a visit to the Paris Morgue and to a “fair” cemetery in Munich, where all the dead are prepared for viewing behind glass, including young men “in dancing-shoes and spotless white linen” (190). The post-mortem operation that concludes “Emerald Uthwart” is performed and reported by a surgeon, who dwells at length on the beauty of Uthwart’s corpse. He notes the pure outlines of its face and limbs and observes that the beautiful organic developments might have served for “a professor of design” (245) His surgical procedure seems to him particularly merciless because of the “expression of health and life” in the corpse (245).
The residual appearance of life in a non-living object aroused Pater’s erotic imagination even when the object, such as the sculptured representation of athletic Greek youths, had never been alive. In a late essay, “The Age of Athletic Prizemen” (1894), Pater described such sculptures as giving not so much the appearance of life as the appearance of arrested life. Supposing that the realism of these sculptures was the product of close observation of actual youths in athletic competition, Pater imagines he is looking not at a lifelike artifact but at a young man arrested in an instant of exertion or rest and preserved in marble or bronze: “it was as if a blast of cool wind had congealed the metal, or the living youth, fixed him imperishably in that moment of rest which lies between two opposed motions.” He reminds us that the earliest notice of athletic contests in the Iliad connected them with funeral rites. These imaginatively heightened visions of the exposed male body are hardly everyday occurrences, but the viewer-protagonist of Pater’s last fiction gains a more commonplace access to the desired object. On a warm moonlit evening Prior Saint-Jean comes upon the figure of Apollyon sleeping, presumably unclothed. A life-long celibate monk, he seemed to be looking at the human form “for the first time.” The sight of the sleeper’s “warm, white limbs” and of the breathing movements of his chest, throat, and limbs was exciting but distressing in its effect: “Could that be diabolical and really spotted with unseen evil, which was so spotless to the eye?” (“Apollo,” 149) Next to the sleeper lay his two idle but potent instruments—the harp with which he seduced men and the bow with which he slew them—and the Prior departed filled with misgivings.
Certainly it was not in imagination alone that Pater was excited by the young male body, but under what circumstances would he have been most likely to have observed it in reality? As a don at a college known largely for sports and athletics, Pater would no doubt have had frequent sight of the youthful male physique. Admiring the youths represented in Greek sculpture, he reflected that we have “in England, also, in Oxford . . . for any master of such art that may be given us, subjects truly ‘made to his hand’” (“The Age of Athletic Prizemen,” 296). But if as retrospective psychologists we suppose that Pater’s ambivalent fascination with the male body originated in childhood, we may conjecture as to its early object. After their father died, Pater, who was two and a half, and his brother, William, who was six, were the only males in a household that included five females. By the time he was 15 William had left school for a clerkship in a merchant’s office. At the age of 22 he was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons. Two years later he joined the army as an Assistant Surgeon but left it to serve as a medical officer and superintendent at a lunatic asylum. He died at the age of 52 after having been nursed by his sisters for several months. William has been described as a “shadowy figure,” and so he seemed even to Pater and his sisters once he left home (Letters, 1, n.4). As an undergraduate Pater complained that his brother “never informs us of any of his movements” (Letters, 1). In his late forties Pater told a friend that his brother “is always away” (Seiler, 68). We know, however, that William never married. According to Thomas Wright, he was tall and, unlike Pater, remarkably handsome, even as a boy.
Pater’s very few surviving references to his brother suggest that he resented his brother’s inaccessibility, which left Pater with the emotional and, as far as we know, with the financial support of their two unmarried sisters. William did leave everything to his sisters at his death, but he made no mention of Pater in his will. Appreciations, a collection of essays that Pater published in 1889 and dedicated to the memory of his brother (who died in1887), referred in the dedication to William Pater’s “useful and happy life.” Useful in his professional life Pater’s brother certainly may have been, but one suspects that Pater had often experienced him as narcissistically self-absorbed. If the childhood incidents recorded by Thomas Wright are authentic, they would indicate that William took pleasure in humiliating and terrifying his younger brother. He mocked Pater for selecting Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur” at his school Speech Day. Earlier he had wrapped a snake around a door handle which Pater touched and “nearly died of fright” (Wright, I: 52). But Pater’s resentment no doubt implied a disappointed expectation. A yearning for fraternal affection is a major motif in Marius, “Emerald Uthwart,” and “Lacedaemon,” the desired brother figure being, like William, a military man. As the single older male in a household run by women, William would have played an important and complex role in Pater’s early life. To some extent Pater’s feelings for him were filial as well as fraternal. Like their father, William became a surgeon, and Pater’s image of his dead father fused with his image of his older brother. When the protagonist of “The Child in the House” tries to remember his father he can imagine him only as “still abroad . . . , somehow for his protection—a grand, though perhaps rather terrible figure in beautiful soldier’s things” (190). Four years older than Pater and therefore entering puberty before him, William would have been the object of his brother’s close visual scrutiny (perhaps while he slept unclothed on a summer evening) and of powerful but unsettling sexual feelings. His “inexplicable excitement . . . from which he half longed to be free” was already connected with apprehensions of danger and death. In his one recorded allusion to their shared childhood, Pater wrote at the time of William’s death, “He was interred on Wednesday, at the cemetery, Highgate—a place associated with my memories of him as a boy” (Letters 71).
By some early point in his life sexuality and cruelty had become fused in Pater’s imagination. The fact of this fusion proved at least as unacceptable and distressing to Pater himself as it has proven to many of his critics, and nothing is more characteristic of the older Pater than his efforts to understand it and the conflicts to which it gave rise. “Could that be diabolical, and really spotted with unseen evil, which was so spotless to the eye?” Pater supposed a similar uncertainty in the mind of Plato: the beautiful resisted every attempt to make it “quite concentric” with the good (Plato, 137). This resistance “taxed [Plato’s] understanding as gravely as it had tried his will” and he was relieved that his ardor diminished with the advance of age (137). As the Prior was confronted with the capacity for wanton cruelty in the physically faultless Apollyon, Plato could hardly ignore the destructive attractiveness of his older contemporary Alcibiades. The same contradiction that vexed Plato’s thought and that destroyed the Prior’s sanity troubled Pater’s imagination: the beautiful narcissistic object of desire might prove cruel. But even more distressing than the presence of cruelty in the attractive object was the psychological fact that cruelty itself can be a source of attraction.
In “Prosper Mérimée,” Pater examined the seductive hold of cruelty on Mérimée’s imagination; its hold on Pater’s own imagination is evident from the acute ambivalence with which he reads Mérimée’s fiction. He approaches the Latin savagery of Mérimée’s tales of Corsican revenge with fascinated aversion. He finds reason to deplore the influence on later French literature of Mérimée’s vision of this life as driven by “hatred, and a love that is like lunacy,” and of the afterlife as a “world of maliciously active, hideous, dead, bodies” (31). Mérimée gives us all the terror of tragedy but none of its pity. For him there is never “horror enough” (31). On the other hand, Pater can only admire Mérimée’s style, as nicely adapted to its purpose as a “perfect pistol-shot” and concede that it is inseparable from Mérimée’s preoccupation with human cruelty (27). Pater compares it to the polished stiletto Colomba carried always beneath her mantle. He is particularly attentive to Colomba as the type of a humanity that Mérimée “found it pleasant to dream of” (28). A young woman of virginal and “wholesome” beauty, gifted with considerable intelligence and with an “irresistible” grace and charm that “only does not make you hate her,” she is consumed solely by lust for the blood of those who have slain her father, and with what Pater calls “a kind of genius, allied to fatal disease of the mind,” succeeds in provoking a corresponding passion in her “half-Parisianised” brother (24, 28, 24). Mérimée’s fiction reminds Pater of those tales of superstition that tell of reversions to a humanity as alien to us as the animals or of survivals of that animal nature in the most civilized of us. It is, Pater supposes, the “psychologic truth” of these stories that fascinates us (28). That there were such survivals in Mérimée himself Pater infers from the content and quality of his imagination. “You seem to find your hand on a serpent, in reading him” (29).
Even more seductive of Pater’s imagination than Mérimée’s Corsica was the sixteenth-century Paris of Gaston de Latour, where narcissistic cruelty was masked with far more exquisite artifice. Gaston observes with fascination the imperturbable indifference with which Jasmin de Villebon and Queen Margaret watch as their infatuated lovers give up their lives for them. Jasmin does no more to save his devoted servant Raoul from execution than does Margaret to save her lover La Mole as she watches him tortured, asking only for his severed head to preserve as a mummified trophy. In Gaston’s fascination with such persons there is a certain envy of their indifference to everything unrelated to themselves, of what Freud described as their ability “to keep away from their ego anything that would diminish it.” As Freud notes, narcissism, particularly when it is accompanied by unusual physical beauty, seems to exercise an extraordinary attraction. It is perhaps among the things it is best not to look at. Reflecting on Jasmin and Margaret, Gaston notices his own image in the mirror and acknowledges that he has himself “taken the impress” of what he has been observing so closely: “The eye, the fancy, the very fibre and fabric of his being” was saturated with it (110). To those who look too curiously upon it, the cool beauty of narcissism apparently has the power not only to attract but to infect.
Pater’s most acute diagnosis of these attractive but destructive creatures of his imagination occurs in the chapter of Gaston de Latour that he called “Anteros.” Representing this essay-chapter as a contribution to the “physiology of love,” Pater writes as an inquirer into the nature of love but love in its diseased rather than in its healthy manifestations distinguished respectively as Anteros and Eros (100). Pater’s use of the term Anteros almost certainly derives from Pausanias, who recorded the origin of the altar of Anteros in Athens. Timagoras doted on Meles, who spurned his love and ordered him to throw himself from a rock. Desiring only to please his lover, he did so and was killed. Meles, remorseful, threw himself from the same rock. A love story in which each of two lovers feels compelled to gratify the other through his own death is a story of what we would call sadomasochism and Pater calls Anteros. Such “[u]nkindly or cruel love” he describes as “carnal, consuming, and essentially wolfish,” contented with nothing less “than the consumption, the destruction of its object” (102, 101). It suggests a distinction between the “seigneurial” personality type, exemplifying “erotic pride,” and the “servile,” exemplifying “erotic humility,” a distinction so fundamental that Pater supposes it innate and physically based, hence his phrase the “physiology of love” (101, 107). But although Pater was rationally unable to conceive a sadistic and a masochistic soul inhabiting the same body, he was evidently able to imagine, and imagine with something like fervor, “the strange delight” both of sexual despotism and of sexual slavery (102). The character of Pater’s chapter, in part a learned treatise, in part a reverie of the infected imagination, presumably represents the situation of Gaston. As a clerkly amanuensis in the service of Queen Margaret he retains the demeanor of an “almost priestly scholar”; he is nevertheless “[e]nthralled” by the erotic spectacle before him, observing it in a state of mental fever (103, 104). This spectacle, which presumably includes the public executions of the self-immolating victims La Mole and Raoul, enthralls the imagination because it first enthralled the eye, the physical beauty of the beloved exerting a tyrannical power that drives the lover to suicide. It is an initial premise of Pater’s physiology of love that all desire originates immediately or remotely in “the desire of the bodily eye” (100). We are reminded of “the lust of the eye” that would lead the boy in “The Child in the House” on his long and wearied way.
It was hardly Pater’s intention to leave Gaston in the Paris of Jasmin and Queen Margaret. Gaston was apparently to find the son he had never seen and to return to his ancestral home, which he was to redesign to symbolize his devotion to fraternal affection and the “sympathetic ties of human life”(1). But Pater’s novel, like Gaston’s structure, was never finished. Presumably, so uncharacteristic an ending would have exceeded the limits of Pater’s fictional imagination. What he could imagine were not so much alternatives to, or sublimated forms of, sadistic feeling but ways of defending against it. Gaston, like Marius, watches a sadistic spectacle fascinated but apprehensive—apprehensive because fascinated—and withdraws, a spectator, rather than a participant, of life. Pater discovered another prophylactic against the infection of cruelty in the capacity for pity, which he represents as the distinguishing mark of our humanity. He notices its presence wherever he observes it in literature or life, occasionally where it is not immediately apparent. Mérimée’s “Matteo Falcone,” which Pater calls “the cruelest story in the world,” could, he supposes, have been written only by “an essentially pitiful nature” (28, 33). But pity is not love. Unlike love, pity remains in close connection with cruelty, which it reacts against or masks. It was when he was tempted to be cruel that the boy in “The Child in the House” recalled the suffering image of Marie Antoinette. Sometimes, however, the defense fails and the mask slips. Pater was very fond of animals and, particularly in Marius the Epicurean, deplored their useless suffering at the hands of men. “The Child in the House” describes the plaintive suffering of a pet angora, and Mrs. Humphry Ward recalled his “devoted nursing” of a paralytic cat (Seiler, 31). But the first edition of Marius included a curiously uncharacteristic episode involving another cat, an episode that Pater deleted in subsequent editions. During a banquet the host’s son punishes his favorite cat by shutting it in an oven and forgets him there. Later, when he opens the oven door, it was “with a really natural laugh” that “he caught sight of the animal’s grotesque appearance . . . , half-burnt, just within the red-hot iron door.” The cool sadism of this gratuitous passage has understandably disturbed critics. It is another indication of his unresolved conflict that Pater initially included and later suppressed this ugly episode.
“Was he ever alive?” By mid-life Pater had evidently become more conventional, reserved, cautious, and timid. The particular inhibition that Wilde (like other later critics) had in mind was doubtless sexual. However, the inhibition from which Pater suffered was primarily an inhibition of aggression and of sexuality insofar as it was connected for him with aggression. By mid-life Pater had also become more retrospective and self-analytic, and Wilde’s rude but not unreasonable question points to the limits of such a self-analysis. Pater once wrote that the kind of imaginative work he could do best was “exclusively personal and solitary” (Letters, 59). Solitary retrospection certainly gave him access to early sadistic feelings, but having to confront them alone, he became frightened and intimidated: might not fantasy become reality if he were ever really to be “alive”? Nevertheless, despite its severe limits, Pater’s project of self-analysis was not entirely unsuccessful. In spite of the aggressive feelings associated with the actions of leaving home and of seeing, he continued to travel and to look. Unlike Wilde in his last years, disgraced, bankrupt, and wheedling money from friends, the older Pater achieved increasing recognition, even fame. Unlike Wilde, who wrote nothing in the last years of his life, Pater remained productive, still writing, as said of Plato at the time of his death—“scribens est mortuus ” (Plato, 149).
Unlike the Wilde of De Profundis, Pater did not entertain the possibility that he could fundamentally change. It was not in the hope of change that he undertook his retrospective self-analysis but rather in order to retrieve those early feelings and thoughts that “abide with us ever afterwards, thus, and not otherwise.” Origins have their inevitable issues. Retrospection did in fact provide not only the motive but the substance and character of much of Pater’s later writing. Like Wordsworth, about whom he wrote one of his most insightful critical essays, the older Pater attempted to retain or restablish an imaginative connection with his earlier self as the source of his continued creativity. Near the end of his autobiographical poem, The Prelude, Wordsworth had written:
As if on wings, and saw beneath me stretched
Vast prospect of the world which I had been
Pater may well have remembered Wordsworth’s image when he imagined Marius surveying the course of his life “like that distant road below” Marius, II:66). Marius was certainly the most retrospective and self-analytical of Pater’s fictional characters, increasingly inclined, like Pater himself, to view his life in retrospect as he aged. Tracing a course far narrower than Wordsworth’s “vast prospect,” Marius is nevertheless not without gratitude. His frequent reflections on his life history have the character of a bilan, balancing his capacities and his infirmities, his strengths and his weaknesses, his successes and his failures. Acknowledging that “I, for one have failed in love,” he can at least affirm of himself “Tristem neminem fecit,” he had caused no man grief (I: 177, 217). Admittedly, he is “no hero” and marvels at his “one sudden, uncontrollable impulse” that seems a manifestation of “nerve.” (II: 212). He is what he has always been through “the original necessities of his own nature and character,” one for whom “seeing” was more than “having” or “doing,” but “seeing” in his sense of the word represented a kind of doing (II: 218). Never fully accommodated to the world in which he found himself, he preserves in death as in life, a state of “candid discontent” (II: 220). It was with particular reference to Marius the Epicurean that Pater described his imaginative work as “exclusively personal and solitary,” and in the figure of Marius he represented a man of his own age (the age at which his father had died) approaching death and assessing the course of his life. Unsatisfied but not dissatisfied, recognizing both the limited range of his emotional experience and its modest but real gratifications, the most retrospective of Pater’s characters could utter his final qualified “Vixi!”—I have lived (II: 218).
William F. Shuter
Eastern Michigan University
 On this last matter, see Billie Andrew Inman, “Engagement and Connection: Walter Pater, Benjamin Jowett, and William M. Hardinge,” Pater in the 1990s, Laurel Brake and Ian Small, eds. (Greensboro: ELT Press, 1991), 1-20 and William Shuter, “The ‘Outing’ of Walter Pater,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 48:4 (1994), 480-506. (Back to Main Text)
 “The Marbles of Aegina,” Greek Studies (London: Macmillan, 1910), 254; Marius the Epicurean, I: 169; Plato and Platonism (London: Macmillan, 1910), 61, 110; “Style,” Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1910), 17. Subsequent references will be given in the text. (Back to Main Text)
 Among the critics particularly sensitive to the obscured depths of Pater’s psyche are Gordon McKenzie (The Literary Character of Walter Pater [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967]), Michael Levey (The Case of Walter Pater [London: Thames and Hudson, 1978]), and Gerald Monsman (Walter Pater’s Art of Autobiography [New Haven:Yale University Press, 1980]). (Back to Main Text)
 In December of 1892 Frederick Macmillan had agreed to publish Three Short Stories. In March of 1893 Macmillan was still advertising as “to be published shortly,” but the volume never appeared. (Back to Main Text)
 “Winckelmann,” Westminster Review, n.s., 31 (1867), 106. A related figure for historical recurrence is the return of the pagan gods of antiquity in the later middle ages, a theme developed by Pater in “Denys l”Auxerrois” (1886) and “Apollo in Picardy” (1893) but already sounded in “Pico della Mirandola’ (1871) and in “Leonardo da Vinci” (1869). (Back to Main Text)
 John Rainier McQueen remembered Pater at school as genuinely devout and recalled Pater telling him that as a boy he had donned a surplice, conducted a service, and preached to his female relations (quoted in Seiler, 226). (Back to Main Text)
 After Pater’s death there was found among his manuscripts an unpublished fiction titled
2. An English Poet’
The manuscript ends in mid-sentence as the poet “in earliest manhood” undertakes a journey southwards. As a portrait of the poet’s boyhood and youth, however, the fiction is substantially complete, which may explain Pater’s abandonment of it (The Fortnightly Review, 129, n.s. [April, 193`1], 446]). (Back to Main Text)
 The student of origins may suspect (though he cannot confirm) that that this episode screens the memory of an earlier distressing experience, since a small child’s first physical movement from the familiar to the unfamiliar is usually a movement from the immediate presence of his mother and is accompanied with some degree of ambivalence. (Back to Main Text)
 Physical motion is also said to stimulate the thought of Montaigne in Gaston de Latour. Intellectual mobility is associated with Heraclitus’s philosophy of motion in Plato and Platonism. (Back to Main Text)
One wishes Wright had cited his source since his informants were not always reliable. But his principal source for this period of Pater’s life was McQueen, whose memory was trustworthy. (Back to Main Text)
 Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, James Strachey, ed. (London: Hogarth Press, 1960), XI: 111. Subsequent references will be given in the text. (Back to Main Text)
 Mario Praz included Pater’s Mona Lisa among the femmes fatales who seduced the imaginations of many nineteenth-century writers (The Romantic Agony, Angus Davidson, trans. [New York: Meridian, 1956], 243-44), as Peter Gay adds her to his list of women who “lure men to passionate suffering and perhaps an early death” (Education of the Senses [New York: Norton, 1999], 202). Taken as a representation of woman’s essential nature, Pater’s Mona Lise would indeed seem to be of the company of the century’s deadly females; however, the subject of Pater’s reverie is not in fact woman herself but, quite explicitly, the fantasies, desiring and apprehensive, that the thought of her has excited in the minds and hearts of men. (Back to Main Text)
 See Inman, Pater and his Reading, 63-72; Laaurel Brake, Walter Pater (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1994), 38-39; Seiler, The Book Beautiful, 58. Like Alexander Macmillan, I do not think that rational or prudential considerations sufficiently explain Pater’s characteristically conflicted behavior. (Back to Main Text)
 Pater could hardly have written this passage without recalling the story of Teiresias, who in punishment for attacking a pair of coupling snakes was turned from a man into a woman. (Back to Main Text)
 That Pater’s homosexuality has become an acceptable (even privileged) topic of critical discourse is illustrated by the essays collected in Walter Pater: Transparencies of Desire Laurel Brake, Lesley Higgins, Carolyn Williams, eds. (Greensboro: ELT Press, 2002). The quite intelligible critical resistance to the evidence of Pater’s sadistic imagination is illustrated by Richard Dellamora’s influential Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990). Dellamora reads the violent death of Hyacinth in “Apollo in Picardy” as Pater’s representation of homosexual martyrdom at the hands of an uncontrolled homophobia. Homophobia has certainly taken, and still takes, sadistic forms, but evidently it is possible to defend against sadistic feelings by displacing them even when the object on to which they are displaced is itself sadistic. (Back to Main Text)
 “The Child in the House,” 190. Commenting on this passage, Michael Level acutely observes, “Over a beautiful, youthful, but dead body he could linger looking freely and unashamed; it prompted a pity, which was as he probably understood, really a suppressed lust” (The Case of Walter Pater, 129). I would add only that in Pater’s case, pity represented something more than suppressed desire. (Back to Main Text)
 In Rereading Walter Pater, I consider the grave visit as a principal theme in Pater’s writing. The interest was apparently of early origin. Monsman has argued that Pater’s feelings of aggression and guilt with regard to his brother constitute “the hidden energizing inspiration” of his art (Walter Pater’s Art of Autobigraphy, 91). (Back to Main Text)
As Pater uses the word Anteros is not easily translated. For Pausanias, Anteros was the name of the god who avenged slighted love, and in Plato’s Phedrus (255d), the word can only mean “love returned.” But since Pater emphatically opposes Anteros to Eros as a “curse” to a “blessing,” we may suppose he took the Greek preposition antí in its sense of “against, opposite.” (Back to Main Text)
 Stendhal’s “De l’Amour” (1822), which Pater mentions in the opening sentence of “Anteros,” was represented by its author as a “Physiology of love.” Honoré de Balzac wrote a “Physiologie du marriage” (1829) and Paul Bourget a “Physiologie de l’amour moderne” (1891). Peter Gay has observed, “No matter how abstract or apparently rational their system, philosophers of love inevitably import their own erotic history into their theorizing. Stendhal had done so, as had Balzac and Bourget” (The Tender Passion, vol. 2 of The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud [New York: Oxford University Press, 1986], 80). The observation applies as well to Pater. (Back to Main Text)
 Monsman has argued that Pater was prevented from completing Gaston de Latour by the guilt evoked by his brother’s death (Walter Pater’s Art of Autobiography, 159-160). Monsman’s argument is attractive; Pater’s brother was certainly the object of his unconscious homicidal fantasies, but why was Pater able to complete “Emerald Uthwart,” in which his sadistic fantasies appear in more overt connection with his brother’s two professions, those of military man and surgeon? (Back to Main Text)
Received: January 1, 2004, Published: January 1, 2004. Copyright © 2004 William F. Shuter