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Dark Aesthete: Gothic Elements in the Fiction of Walter Pater

Geoffrey Johnston Sadock

Résumé

Walter Pater is today celebrated for his imaginary portraits, ekphrastic meditations on landscape, paintings, and sculpture; for his aesthetic method and prose style. It should now be acknowledged that he is also a master of the Gothic, whose synthesis of the beautiful and the horrific invests his fiction with a delayed but unforgettable urgency.
After reviewing Pater's status in recent scholarship and defining ‘Gothic,’ ‘Dark Aesthete’ considers the kinds and instances of Gothic writing in his short stories,
Marius the Epicurean, and unfinished novel Gaston de Latour (1889, revised text 1995). The essay elucidates the absent, ghost-like father-surrogate whose ‘half-hostile’ attitude leads to the tragic death or suffering of a blameless son, thereby providing the intersection of autobiography and Gothic literary tradition in these texts.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Coste, Bénédicte, ‘An Untimely Soul?’ in The Reception of Walter Pater in Europe, ed. Stephen Bann. (...)
  • 2 Higgins, Lesley, ‘No Time for Pater: Breaking the Homophobic Silence,’ in The Modernist Cult of Ugl (...)
  • 3 Brake, ‘Dance’

1In the better part of the 20th century, Pater, the man and his oeuvre, as Rene Wellek famously remarked in 1965, lay ‘under a cloud.’1 The ‘Men of 1914’ [T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and T. E. Hulme] did their level best to expunge his image and aestheticism from modern scholarly discourse.2 From the early 1920s until the very late 1980s, despite abundant resonances of Pater in scholarly memory and the arduous labors of a handful of Pater enthusiasts, his status in the history of English literature was that of a ghost. No complete edition of his works has yet appeared and, apart from The Renaissance and Marius, none of his essays and stories has been reprinted. One consequence of his stage-managed neglect was that Pater’s fiction was not subjected to psychoanalytical interpretation during the period after the 1920s, when Freud’s theories of the unconscious and Oedipal Complex became available in English, and fashionable among academicians. When seismic changes in Anglo-American culture, between 1980–1990, made the discussion of homophobia, homoeroticism, sexual encoding, sadomasochism, and repressed desire acceptable, Pater was subjected to a kind of feeding frenzy at the hands of gender studies, queer theorists, and deconstructionists bent on ‘outing’ him.3

2Pater’s fiction contains unmistakable elements of the Gothic. But what exactly is the ‘Gothic’? Before we consider his fiction, it is necessary to define this elusive, compelling, and yet ambiguous term.

3Literary historians generally date the rise of the Gothic in English literature to the publication of the Graveyard School of poets (1760s) and to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ exemplifies several of the essential elements in any workable definition of the term. These include mediaeval imagery (heraldry, crumbling architecture, bejewelled costumes); darkness (references to autumn, sunset, the hidden, entombed, or repressed); loss of consciousness or oblivion; animal or totemic images, especially those associated with death (beetles, worms, moths); a sense or loss of overwhelming melancholy (ubi sunt); a Protestant sensibility; and a fascination with remoteness, obscurity, and the hidden. To this Walpole adds, in the first acknowledged Gothic novel, repressed sexuality, the supernatural, and a recognizable cast of characters (e.g.—a nominal Anglo-Saxon hero, a divided heroine, a libidinous villain, and a wizard). Not every Gothic work contains all these elements. All that is necessary to make the term appropriate is a combination of several and a conspicuous absence of probability in the plot, realism in description, an orientation to the here and now, and a rational, essentially positive attitude to life and experience. The Romantics add yet other elements that have become associated with the genre. Maturin, Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory ‘Monk’ Lewis, and especially Mary Shelley, E. A. Poe, Keats inject psychopathology, aberrant sexuality (sado-masochism), criminality, madness, satanism, and narcissistic Faustian ambition to the mix. The juxtaposition of the beautiful and the grotesque, as well as that of normal and paranormal experience has been characteristic since the early 19th century and is conspicuous in the poetry of Keats (‘La Belle Dame,’ ‘Eve of St Agnes,’ and the Odes). Graphic violence usually characterizes the climax of the plot. A less obvious, or covert, characteristic, particularly in late 19th century examples (e.g.—Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is racism, the contrast between the fair English hero and heroine and the invariably dark, foreign villain.

  • 4 Burdett, Osbert, Introduction to Marius the Epicurean. London, 1968. (hereafter Burdett)

4This essay elucidates some of the Gothic aspects of Pater’s fiction. It begins where Osbert Burdett, in a rare perception during Pater’s period of neglect (1968), left off.4 Considering ‘Denys l’Auxerrois’ and ‘Apollo in Picardy,’ Burdett observes:

  • 5 Ibid.

These are interesting not only because they are the most vivid and unforgettable of Pater’s studies, the nearest to exciting narrative of all he wrote, but because they give a glimpse of the forces that lay behind his reserve, and show how the imagination of this austere and restrained man would see, sometimes, an outlet at the opposite pole from his customary correctitude. His imagination would play with the idea of violence, would rejoice in an outbreak of riot, and, in reaction from his habitual passivity, would linger with an odd delight on bloodshed. . . . In the recesses of his nature a fanatic of some kind was lurking, and thus a book like Marius, may seem to cooler natures to recommend an impossible aloofness from experience may, in truth, have been the wisdom that was the only solution of a temper really difficult for him so to have tamed.5

  • 6 Pater, Walter, Marius, Chapter XIV in Pater, Works, 230-243.

5That temper was fascinated by sadistic cruelty, violence, and bloodshed, characteristically caused by, or carried out in the presence of, an aloof father surrogate. Readers of Marius, the only one of Pater’s fictions to attain to near-popularity, have long been aware of the stoic indifference of Marcus Aurelius and of the detail in which it dwells on man’s cruelty to animals and to other men. Chapter XIV, ‘Manly Amusements,’ is replete with such imagery, including the slaughter of pregnant animals, the forced flight of new-borns from their dying/butchered mothers, and reenactments of the myths of Icarus and Marsyas,6 in which a criminal is condemned to lose his skin. Pater describes the finesse with which, ‘after one short cut with his knife, [the assistant]. . . would let slip the man’s leg from his skin, as neatly as if it were a stocking. . . .’ The flaying, like all the other cruelties in the Coloseum, takes place under the sublimely indifferent eyes of the Emperor, from whom Marius for the first time feels an emotional and moral dissociation.

  • 7 Chandler, Edmund, ‘Pater on Style: An Examination of the “Essay on Style” and the Textual History o (...)
  • 8 Ibid., 78.
  • 9 Ibid., 24.
  • 10 Ibid., 76-78.
  • 11 Sadock, Geoffrey, The Ascent to Aesthetic Humanism: The Contemporary Critical Reception of Walter P (...)

6The innate ‘strangeness’ in Pater’s personality, which provoked Wilde to remark on his mentor’s ‘peculiar sensitivity’ and ‘emotional abnormality,’ found its explicit expression in the first, and now rare, edition of Marius the Epicurean. In a passage that was suppressed in the second and all subsequent editions, Pater describes with obvious and repulsive sadistic delight the sight of a half-burnt cat within the red-hot doors of a festively decorated kitchen oven. Edmund Chandler, in a perspicuous analysis of the psychology of Pater’s revisions,7 cites this and the original gory descriptions of the blood-drenched arena sands as unmistakable ‘evidence of emotional abnormality.’8 Referring to the scene in which Commodus glimpses the cat, Chandler writes: this passage is ‘so extraordinary for its sheer sadism that it seems to me unique in Pater and perhaps in English writing.’9 At the close of his analysis, Chandler again cites this incident as ‘the most calmly sadistic passage of imaginative writing one can recall’ and asserts that Pater was himself aware of the nature of his sensuality and of the urgent need always to suppress it.10 So important must Pater have thought the task of deleting such outbursts from Marius that he suspended the writing of Gaston de Latour during most of 1888—89 in order to complete his revision. Something of the censorship Pater imposed on his own work is suggested by the fact that he modified or eliminated over 2000 descriptive words and phrases in the novel but added only three paragraphs. Significantly, Pater suppressed the grotesque description of the half-burnt cat before Marius went into a second edition on 13 November 1885, barely six months after it had first appeared. I have not been able to find a single contemporary reference to this passage or to the blatant sadism of the arena ‘games’ as they were originally depicted. Wilde bases his notice of ‘strange sensuousness’ on the much milder, almost oblique ‘tearing of flesh’ at the end of ‘Denys l’Auxerrois.’11

  • 12 Pater, Walter ‘Apollo in Picardy,’ in Miscellaneous Studies [originally published in Harper's Magaz (...)
  • 13 Ibid., 144.
  • 14 Ibid., 156.
  • 15 Ibid., 168.

7Less well known, but more telling, is the horrific ending of ‘Apollo in Picardy.’12 (1893). The story is ostensibly about the accidental death of Apollyon at the hands of another brother, Hyancinthus, but it is really an indictment of Prior Saint Jean, under whose tutelage both boys have grown from childhood to adolescence. The Prior is depicted as a cloistered dreamer, lost in recondite scholarship. The twelfth volume of his magnum opus is, as Pater candidly reveals, ‘a solecism. . .’ in which everything is ‘entirely abstract and impersonal.’13 The only time Abbot Saint Jean comes alive and responds as a flesh-and-blood man is in his relationship with the black-haired Hyancinthus, ‘the pet of the community.’ Despite the Abbot’s best efforts to conform the boy to the monastic rule, Hyancinthus remains a natural pagan, delighting in laying aside the garb of a monastic novice and in expressing a wild animal energy. Apollyon becomes his companion in sport and in exploration of the world around the monastery. Both boys are the adoptive sons of the old Abbott, who does not really understand them and cannot provide any useful guidance in the transition from childhood to manhood. Only very dimly and too late does he intuit that Hyacinth is an embodiment of a destructive pagan demi-urge ‘the power of the untutored natural influence.’14 The bloody fratricide is heightened by its juxtaposition to Saint Jean’s slow researches and by its swiftness. Apollyon finds, at a gravesite, five ‘Devil’s penny pieces,’ recognizing at once their use. He ‘poises the discus; sets it wheeling.’ He promises Hyacinth and himself ‘rare sport in the cool of the evening. . . .’ On the moonlit turf, the boys challenge each other in flinging the discus; their danse macabre escalates as an ‘icy blast of wind [lifts] the roof from the old chapel. Apollyon throws the Devil’s penny-piece for the last time; it becomes a twirling leaf in the wind, till it sinks edgewise, sawing through the boy’s [Hyacinthus’s] face, uplifted in the dark to trace it, crushing the tender skull upon the brain.’15

  • 16 Ibid.

8In an instant, ‘a cry of pain, of reproach’ echoes over the Picard wolds. Pater achieves a quintessential Gothic moment, beauty commingled with the grotesque: ‘The last drops of the blood of Hyacinth still trickled through the thick masses of dark hair, where the tonsure had been. An abundant rain, mingling with the copious purple stream, had coloured the grass all around where the corpse lay. . . .’16 The ‘father,’ Abbot Saint Jean, pays for his ineptitude and incestuous homoerotic voyeurism, with madness and literary sterility, perhaps the worst sentence Pater could pass on a fellow writer.

  • 17 Pater, Walter, ‘Denys l'Auxerrois,’ in Imaginary Portraits, in Pater, Works, 64.
  • 18 Ibid., 70.
  • 19 Ibid., 75.
  • 20 Ibid., 76.
  • 21 Ibid., 76.

9‘Denys l’Auxerrois,’ whose eponymous character possesses the same beauty and high animal exuberance as Apollyon, is the illegitimate son of the Count of Auxerre. In all things, ‘a lover of fertility,’17 hedonistic, unconventional, and an advocate of ‘the oddly grown or even misshapen,’ he wins the heart of the people of the province, in his pagan revelry, making them wonder ‘would he make himself Count of Auxerre?’ The Œdipal rivalry here is implicit. He makes the wise old monk Hermes, another father figure, fear that ‘the Wine-god, whose part Denys had played so well,’ will lead the people to ‘the coarseness of satiety, and shapeless battered-out appetite.’ After a period of wantonness, the province undergoes a period of scarcity and privation, causing Denys to lose his popularity and to withdraw into the safety of a Catholic monastery. ‘. . . the soul of Denys darkened, had passed into obscure regions of the satiric, the grotesque and coarse.’18 In their desperation to alleviate their circumstances, the people determined to exhume the body of the saint who had favored the city. The Sire de Chastellux hastened to preside, according to hereditary right, but had died before the ceremony. His heir (Denys’s half-brother) came forward now, both to preside and to take the hand of the Lady Ariane. ‘The festival was to end at nightfall with a somewhat rude popular pageant, in which Winter would be hunted blindfold[ed] through the streets.’19 Denys, seeing his part before him, assumes the central figure. In donning the ‘ashen-grey mantle, the rough haircloth scratched his lip deeply, with a long trickling of blood upon the chin.’20 Hereupon a ‘mad rage’ erupts among the masses, whose feral instincts for blood overcome them. They tear at the body, in a scene that might recall George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ The monk Hermes, the impotent father figure, awaits some remnant of his son. ‘At nightfall, the heart of Denys was brought to him by a stranger.’21 Distant and ineffectual, the ‘father’ has nothing to do but inter the heart of the ‘son’ he did not love well enough.

  • 22 Pater, ‘Sebastian van Storck,’ in Imaginary Portraits, in Pater, Works, 81-115.

10Sebastian van Storck seems different from Pater’s other boy-martyrs: he is not characterized by great humor, unbounded animal spirits, and he is not bereft of the support of loving parents.22 Nor does the narrative depict images of sadistic horror and bloodshed. Yet, closer examination reveals a congruence with the stories we have considered thus far, a pattern of paternal misapprehension and distance that leads to the tragic death of a blameless son.

  • 23 Ibid, 83.
  • 24 Ibid., 103.
  • 25 Ibid., 110.
  • 26 Ibid., 113.
  • 27 Ibid., 114.
  • 28 Ibid.

11The Gothic element in ‘Sebastian van Stork’ is interior, a darkening of the mind of the young man into monomania. The first to notice Sebastian’s mental peculiarities is his tutor, who, conscious of ‘a certain loss of robustness’ in his pupil, sends Sebastian home to recuperate. In a letter to the elder Sebastian, the boy’s namesake and Burgomaster of Haarlem, he diagnoses the boy thus: ‘Certainly he differs, strikingly from his equals in age, by his passion for a vigorous intellectual gymnastic,. . . indeed the rigidly logical tendency of his mind always leads him out upon the practical. . . . This intellectual rectitude, or candour. . . has reacted upon myself, I confess, with a searching quality.’23 This ‘searching quality’ isolates Sebastian, causing him to withdraw into a world of contemplation. He comes closest to normal human relations with Mademoiselle van Westrheene, to whom he is nearly betrothed, but, at the crucial moment, he disappears. Later, just before the pride-wounded girl becomes a beguine [an unmarried ascetic living in community], she shares with her mother the odd, deliberate letter ‘rejecting her—accusing her, so natural, and simply loyal! of a vulgar coarseness of character. . .’24 Thereafter, Sebastian becomes obsessed with abstractions, the search for the one absolute reality, a search in which ‘. . . the world and the individual had been divested of all effective purpose.’25 ‘His odd devotion’ to this search, ‘soaring or sinking into fanaticism, into a kind of religious mania,’ degenerates at length into ‘black melancholy.’ Recalling the moral and physical deterioration of Roderick Usher and Huysmans’s Jean des Esseintes, among many other decadents of the 19th century, his body succumbs to a ‘physical phthisis’ [pulmonary tuberculosis]. In a last, desperate attempt to regain his health, he escapes to ‘a desolate house, amid the sands of the Helder, one of the old lodgings of his family, property now, rather, of the sea-birds, and almost surrounded by the encroaching tide.’26 Pulling with all his artistic might upon the ‘Pathetic Fallacy’ to provide a climactic ending, Pater whips up a terrific, fourteen-day long storm, in which ‘indeed the dykes were cut.’ and the property ‘underwent an inundation of the sea the like of which had not occurred in that province for half a century.’27 As usual, the horrific occurs so suddenly in Pater’s fiction that it is almost missed. In this tale, it is understated, in the passive voice, the actual unfolding being forced in retrospect upon the reader’s imagination ‘. . . when the body of Sebastian was found, apparently not long after death, a child lay asleep, swaddled warmly in his heavy furs, in an upper room of the old town, to which the tide was almost risen.’28 What is distinctive about ‘Sebastian van Storck’ is that it allows the merest hope of redemption. Perhaps aware that his sickness is mortal, Sebastian dies in an act of selfless love, expressing his connectedness to another; that, after all, is why Marius dies a Christian death, even though he is not properly a Christian.

  • 29 Pater, ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold,’ Imaginary Portraits, in Pater, Works, 119-153
  • 30 Ibid., 138.

12‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold’ is less Gothic than Pater’s other Imaginary Portraits. It is mainly about the impatience of its young hero for an autocthonous stirring of cultural genius in his native land. Pater draws on Voltaire’s description of Westphalia, in Candide, for his description of dusty, sleepy, imitation-French old Rosenmold (surely a tag name); and on Jane Austen’s Gothic spoof, Northanger Abbey, for his reduction of Gothic sensibility to silliness. Real Gothic sentiment occurs when Duke Carl, frustrated at the shallowness of 18th century German provincial culture, descends briefly into melancholia. The reader must visualize young Duke Carl: tall, beefy, bellied but not gross (after the Meisen/Dresden figurines of lovers and shepherds); broad-faced, with ruddy cheeks and ‘full red lips and open blue eyes,’ quick of mind and eager for celebration. When he realizes that his attempts to enliven the provincial court must fail, he ‘would purchase his freedom’29 by staging and observing (disguised as a strolling musician) his ‘death’ and ‘burial.’ Several weeks later, ‘the mad Duke’ reappears, much to the dismay of the court marshals. In the years that follow, he travels widely in Germany, falling in love with the natural beauty, history, and cultural potential of his Fatherland, finally embracing wholeheartedly the land and town in which he has been raised. Although he comes close to France and Italy, he decides Germany is all-sufficient. He remembers the beggar maid with whom he had flirted and, in defiance of class and breeding, decides to make her his wife. On the evening of the nuptial, the invading army of a neighboring principality besieges Rosenmold. In the tumult, Duke Carl and his gypsy wife disappear, becoming, apparently, aristocratic vagabonds. Pater wrote this story in 1887,30 twenty years after Wagner produced Die Meistersänger von Nürnberg; perhaps Pater, an early proponent of German culture, philosophy, and music, was under the sway of German romanticism when he wrote it. If German-speaking librettists had been aware of Pater’s writing a century ago, they might have turned ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold’ into an operetta or opera, along the lines of Richard Strauss’s Die Rosenkavalier.

  • 31 Pater, ‘Emerald Uthwart,’ in New Review (June and July 1892); reprinted in Miscellaneous Studies, i (...)
  • 32 Ibid., 201.
  • 33 Ibid., 206.

13‘Emerald Uthwart’ (1892)31 is arguably the finest piece of short fiction Pater ever wrote. The possession of the eponymous character’s mind represents Gothic psychology in an unforgettable way. The story is a cautionary tale of a young man’s coming of age in battle; an unforgettable imaginary portrait; and the description of a traditional English education that outdoes in veracity the sentimentality of Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days and of James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr Chips. It is, therefore, triply regrettable that the text is not available, except in the Library Edition of 1910 and various reprints. Set in the present, the story foretokens by 22 years the actual carnage that took place in Flanders during the Great War (1914–18), and must surely have been among those writings of Pater’s most cherished by an officer corps steeped in Anglicanism, patriotism, and Classics. Nothing is said about Emerald’s parents or family. The youngest son, but not the youngest child, he is one among several siblings who grew up in a remote Sussex village, where they develop a quintessentially English love of gardening and of the sea. He is ‘little considered’ and, therefore, grows up with a sense of ‘liberty in the place he. . . had loved better than any of them [his siblings]’32 His father contributes nothing to the formation of his character, apart from providing hereditary traits—both physiognomic and moral—and tendencies. That rôle, father surrogate, falls to one of his school-masters after Emerald, who ‘is to go to school, chiefly for the convenience of others,’ arrives at an ancient English public school in an ‘old ecclesiastical city, upon which any more modern touch. . . seems a thing out of place through negligence.’33

  • 34 Ibid., 207.
  • 35 Ibid., 217.

14Apart from this architectural setting, both at school and later at Oxford, there is little mediaevalism in the story, none of the geegaws modern readers expect in a Gothic tale. The horror in the story is Emerald’s relationship with his prefect. On his arrival, the boy’s mind ‘is the plain tablet, for the influences of the place to inscribe.’34 This receptivity, joined to Emerald’s ‘wholly unconscious humility’ and masked submissiveness, is immediately recognized by James Stokes, with whom Emerald bonds as a younger brother or son. Their minor dereliction of duty requires corporal punishment. Although Stokes, as leader, is the more culpable of the two, he, ‘believing—he too—that Aldy was “incapable of pain,”’ allows the boy to suffer at the hands of the headmaster. After being flogged, Emerald says submissively ‘And now, sir, that I have taken my punishment, I hope you will forgive my fault.’35 This puts the seal on their relationship.

  • 36 Ibid., 225.
  • 37 Martin Taylor, ed., Lads: Love Poetry in the Trenches. London, 2002.
  • 38 Pater, ‘Emerald,’ 232.
  • 39 Ibid., 233.
  • 40 Ibid., 237.

15Emerald emerges as a ‘Young Apollo,’ the ‘best of playfellows.’ Unsure whether he should continue his education, he ‘knows it already’ and is told by the masters that he ‘would do for the army.’ Stokes, who has filled, as his name implies, the young boy’s head with visions of fortune and glory, and has presided over his growth into strappling manhood, decides that he will be a soldier too. Oxford, however, beckons James Stokes, ‘and therefore Emerald Uthwart,’ from whom he has become inseparable. They enjoy a rousing but brief time at the University, leaving ‘precipitately,’ ‘taking advantage of a sudden outbreak of war to join the army at once,. . .’36 In due course, they take their commissions and set out for Flanders. Pater provides descriptions of trench warfare in that region that eerily anticipate the observations of the War Poets, less than a generation later.37 Eager for glory, Stokes conceives ‘an act of thoughtless bravery. . .’—criminal however to the military conscience, under the actual circumstances, and in an enemy’s country. Uthwart, ‘still following his senior,’ participates fully in the unauthorized act, seizing ‘an old weather-beaten [enemy] flag such as hung in the cathedral aisle at school.’ They are not with their company when it is ordered forward in their brief absence, and are arrested, ‘with that damning proof of heroism,’ when they return. They are reintegrated into their unit and see some action and ‘grotesque hardships;’ but mostly ‘the essential monotony of military life, even on a campaign.’ ‘And, at length fortune, their misfortune, perversely determined that heroism should take the form of patience under the walls of an unimportant frontier town. . .’38 This will not do for James Stokes, who longs for ‘heroic effort, and [is] ready to pay its price.’ In a passage fraught with innuendo, Pater writes that Uthwart is ‘seduced at last from the clearer sense of duty and discipline, not by the demonstrated ease, but rather by the apparent difficulty of what Stokes proposes to do.’39 They, and a handful of men also seduced by Stokes’s rhetoric, plan to capture a beleaguered town. In the event, this ‘delightful heroism’ utterly fails. They are captured, tried on the charge of desertion and ‘wantonly exposing their company to danger,’ found guilty, and sentenced to death by firing squad. The whole garrison witnesses the execution on a clear grey morning. Stokes, deadly pale, but dignified in his last moments, is ordered to kneel down on his open coffin. A volley is fired, but ‘the body of the unfortunate man sprang up, falling again on his back.’ The presiding officer ‘thought he was not quite dead. . . placed a musket close to his head and fired.’40

  • 41 Ibid., 246.

16The sentence of Stokes’s younger, more fortunate companion is, ‘by the mercy of the court,’ commuted to dismissal from the army with disgrace. Uthwart is made to endure the breaking of his sword upon his head and the tearing off of his officer’s epaulettes and buttons. Thereafter, he deteriorates into a derelict. At length, he returns to Sussex, where his disgrace has preceded him. No one excoriates him; instead they nurse him back to a semblance of health, but, in this brief grace period, ‘like a delightful few days’ additional holiday from school,’ it becomes clear that he is approaching death—at 26! Just before his death, his case is successfully argued before a military tribunal; he is pardoned and decommissioned, but the gun-shot wound of an earlier campaign erupts with lethal consequences. Amid the relics of his uniform and the letter offering him a new commission, in ‘an absolute submissiveness’ he finally succumbs. In a final Gothic touch, Pater quotes in full the report of a country surgeon, summoned by the family to remove the bullet. The description of Emerald’s corpse and of the removal of the missile is a masterpiece of decadent writing, pulsing with homoerotic energy, Catholic symbolism, and gore. ‘The ball,’ he writes, ‘a small one, much covered with blood, was at length removed; and I was then directed to wrap it in a partly-printed letter. . . and place it in the breast-pocket of a faded and much-worn scarlet soldier’s coat, put over the shirt which enveloped the body. The flowers were then hastily replaced, the hands and the peak of the handsome nose remaining visible among them; the wind ruffled the fair hair a little; the lips were still red.’41 As after the Passion of Christ, Emerald’s body is placed at the centre of a devotional tableau before burial, yet, as in innumerable paintings from the Vesterbilds of the Middle Ages to Chagall, it remains an erotic object surrounded by flowers and offering lips that beg to be kissed.

17The real criminal act in the story is not, of course, the naïve military escapade of the master and pupil, but Stokes’s cruel, selfish manipulation of the boy left in his charge. For his own glory, he persuades himself not only that Emerald is indifferent to pain but that he, Stokes, has the right to gamble with Emerald’s life. How different—and how much longer!—might Emerald’s life have been if the only man whom he trusted as a father had offered the protection and generosity of heart to put Emerald’s welfare, indeed his life, above his own egotistical needs.

18Emerald’s world, to use Sedgewick’s term, is exclusively homosocial; apart from his mother and sisters, there are no females in the story. Emerald is a jewel of male beauty, whose development into an adult heterosexual man is ‘thwarted,’ arrested by a fatal liaison with an older teacher. On a deeper Freudian level, it might be argued that Pater has encoded his personal fear of the consequences of sodomy, idealized in late 19th century Oxbridge under the name ‘Greek love.’ Pater specifically tells us that Emerald dies of an old gun-shot wound, thereby raising the image of the gun or pistol, long a metaphor for the penis. Emerald is penetrated during his first ‘romantic’ adventure with Stokes. The wound only seems to heal, but, in fact, festers, eventually corrupting his whole system. Stokes’s phallic equivalency is also suggested by the way he dies: after being shot by the firing squad, his body rises up again and the presiding officer, fearing that he is not yet dead, is obliged to shoot him in the head. After the severe dressing-down Pater suffered at the hands of Jowett, for his reported love-letters to an undergraduate named Hardinge, it is plausible that his dread of actual sodomy caused him to adopt celibacy as his life-long policy.

  • 42 Ibid., 7.

19Gerald Monsman’s Revised Text of Gaston de Latour (1995) presents two elements that concern us here: the Gothic and the psycho-pathological. As in Marius, there is a kind of state-sanctioned blood-lust in the court of Charles IX and in the monarch himself. Charles is obsessive about the hunt (Chapter I): servants lead him to the best apartment in Deux-Manoirs, ‘that he might wash off the blood with which not his hands only were covered, for he hunted also with the eagerness of a madman—steeped in blood.’42 The visit, in a juxtaposition of predatory ferocity and aesthetic finesse, is etched in Gaston’s memory, even as a stanza of Charles’s own is ‘scratched with a diamond on the window-pane’ of the room in which he had slept.

  • 43 Ibid., 42.

20During his Lehrjahre in the South, Gaston delights in the seashore but notes: ‘Bright as the scene of his journey had been, it had from time to time its grisly touches. A forbidden fortress with its steel-clad inmates thrust itself upon the way: the village church had been ruined too recently to count as picturesque; and at last, at the meeting-point of five long causeways across a wide expanse of marshland, where the wholesome sea turned stagnant, La Rochelle itself scowled through the heavy air, the dark ramparts still rising higher around its dark townfolk: —La Rochelle, . . . the ceded capital of the Huguenots.’43 Even before the Bosch-like scenes of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre break upon Paris, Charles is identified as a facilitator, if not an actual participant in the bloodletting, having enacted legislation to trap the Huguenots in parts of the city where they are easy prey for the Catholic forces.

21Pater refers to the massacre as ‘a surfeit of blood.’ Chapter IV is replete with royal treachery, sectarian vengeance, the slaughter of innocent women, children, and the aged—all made worse for Gaston, who, because of his absence at the death-bed of his grandfather in La Beauce, is forced to picture the horror in his own imagination. His grief becomes floodgate when he fails to find his pregnant wife, whose dying assumption, darkened by her Huguenot kinsmen’s vilification of his character, is that he has deserted her in the moment of her greatest need.

  • 44 There is no documentary proof that Pater compiled notes, or attempted an essay on Montaigne. That h (...)
  • 45 Pater, Gaston, 53.

22Chapter V, ‘Suspended Judgment,’ although altogether lighter than its predecessor, nevertheless presents the story of another failed ‘father’—Michel Montaigne.44 Pater presents Montaigne’s skepticism, tentativeness, conditionality, relativism, and ‘diversity of opinion’ as analogous to his own, thereby becoming self-incriminating when, at the end, Gaston fails to derive any utile from his principles. Returned to life and the pursuit of wisdom, after the nightmare of religious hatred in Paris, Gaston is pleased to sojourn with the great man. ‘To Gaston there was a kind of fascination, an actually aesthetic beauty in the spectacle of that keen intelligence, dividing evidence so finely, like some exquisite steel instrument, with impeccable sufficiency, always leaving loyally the last word to the central intellectual faculty, in an entire disinterestedness.’45 Montaigne’s ‘exquisite words’ touch base in only two realities, his love of his father—an emotion with which Pater was wholly unfamiliar—and his love of Etienne de la Boétie, for whom Montaigne cherishes an affection untouched by homosexual desire. After a kind of apprentissage, Gaston realizes that he must move on.

  • 46 Fortnightly Review, ii, August 1889, 234-244.

23Ever eschewing ‘a facile orthodoxy,’ and not without a whiff of anti-Catholicism in his treatment of the religious wars in France and elsewhere, Pater uses Chapter VII, ‘The Lower Pantheism,’ to rehearse the doctrines of Giordano Bruno, whose colourful life and work had prompted him to write the first draft in 1889.46 Pater could not have failed to be drawn to Bruno, pantheist, rebel, idiosyncratic neo-Platonist, material monist, ‘free spirit,’ and probably the only thinker in European intellectual history who had the unique distinction of being excommunicated by the Calvinist Council at Geneva, condemned by the Lutherans at Helmstadt, and burnt at the stake for theological error by the Roman Catholic Church in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome (17 February 1600). Projecting his own narcissism into Bruno, Pater describes the philosopher’s infectious élan:

  • 47 Pater, Gaston 79.

. . . certainly, when Bruno confronted his audience at Paris, himself, his theme, his language, were alike the fuel of one clear spiritual flame, which soon had hold of the audience also; alien, strangely alien, as that audience might seem from the speaker. It was intimate discourse, in magnetic touch with every person present, with his special point of impressibility; the sort of speech. . . in which a solicitous missionary finds his largest range of opportunity, and takes even dull wits unaware. In Bruno, that abstract theory of the perpetual motion of the world was become a visible person talking with you.47

  • 48 Ibid., 83.
  • 49 Ibid., 81.

24Gaston, the nominal protagonist of the novel, appears very briefly at the beginning and end of the chapter, in which Pater expatiates on Bruno’s enthusiasms as a way of expressing his own relativism, delight in diverse ‘unity,’ and espousal of the panta rhei in all material and spiritual phenomena. Gaston is struck by the phrase ‘Ideas, and Shadows of Ideas,’ ‘though not precisely according to the mind of the speaker; accommodated rather to the thoughts which just then pre-occupied his own.’48 ‘. . . for a time he seemed to fall under the spell, the power. . . of Bruno’s Ideas,’49 but, as with Montaigne, he finds no compelling truth in the perambulations of this errant Father of the Church.

  • 50 There is no documentary proof that Pater compiled notes, or attempted an essay on Montaigne. That h (...)

25Richard Globe Pater, the writer’s father, was born in 1796, and died in 1842, when Pater was three; his brother, William Granger Pater, with whom he shared a medical practice and who might have become a pater familias, died three years later in 1845.50

  • 51 Levey, Michael, The Case of Walter Pater. New York and Plymouth, 1978, 30. (hereafter Levey)
  • 52 Ibid., 30.
  • 53 Ibid., 31; based on ‘Child in the House,’ Miscellaneous Studies, in Pater, Works, 190-192.
  • 54 Seiler, R[obert] M[orris], Walter Pater: A Life Remembered. Calgary, Canada, 1987, xii.
  • 55 Pater's harsh criticism of The Picture of Dorian Gray can be found in: ‘A Novel by Mr Oscar Wilde,’ (...)

26Michael Levey writes movingly that, although Pater scarcely remembered his ‘cold’ and ‘severe’ father, he ‘certainly could not escape realizing as he grew up. . . the effect his father’s death [had] on the surviving household of three women.’51 A passage in ‘The Child in the House’ leads ‘straight on to what he calls the most poignant of that child’s recollections—‘in unfading minutest circumstance’—of the ‘cry on the stair. . . struck into his soul for ever,’ uttered by his father’s aged sister in announcing the father’s death: a death located as happening in distant India.’52 Pater’s sense of abandonment was heightened by the sight of an open grave and ‘the full physical horror of death.’ The autobiographical author of ‘The Child in the House,’ ‘realized that no benign, protective figure existed of the kind he had liked to imagine; instead, though perhaps only briefly, it was replaced by a fearful, ghastly, half-hostile revenant.’ This is the intersection of Gothic tradition and father-figures from which Pater’s fiction develops.53 Thereafter women dominated Pater’s formative years, his grandmother, mother, and aunt ‘Bessie.’ No loving, adult, heterosexual man befriended the boy or provided a model on whom he might have patterned himself. Wright, Seiler, and Levey recount the meager facts of Pater’s childhood and career at the King’s School, Canterbury. They describe a lonely, ‘haunted’ lad, who got into one serious scuffle with a bully (like James Stokes in ‘Emerald’), but who also found his niche among the Triumvirate (with Henry Dombrain and John Rainier McQueen), left with prizes in Latin and ecclesiastical history, merited the headmaster’s commendation, and won an exhibition to Queen’s College, Oxford. One searches in vain for any traumatic incident or bodily abuse that might have precipitated algolagnia in Pater. Not surprisingly, the fictive fathers among Pater’s portraits are all deceased, inadequate, or neglectful. That having been said, it is remarkable that they cover a wide range, from the congenially inept to the heretical, the obsessed, and the murderous. A Classical don for many years, Pater had himself ample opportunity to enact the rôle of mentor or father surrogate to the undergraduates, some of them brilliant and troubled, who passed through the (all-male) halls of Brasenose College. Whatever his intention, he must have reflected with bitterness that his teaching did not serve all of them well. His most famous ‘pupil,’ Oscar Wilde,54 came to ruin still quoting, or, rather, misquoting, the pages of ‘my golden book,’ Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873). Fortunately, Pater did not live to see the fall of his most ardent ‘son’ into criminal ignominy: he died on 4 January 1894, a year and four months before Wilde was brought to trial.55

27Pater is today celebrated for his portraits, ekphrastic meditations on landscape, paintings, and sculpture; for his aesthetic method and prose style. It should now be acknowledged that he is also a master of the Gothic, whose synthesis of the beautiful and the horrific invests his fiction with a delayed but unforgettable urgency.

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Bibliographie

Primary Sources

Pater, Walter. ‘Apollo in Picardy.’ Miscellaneous Studies (originally published in Harper’s Magazine, November 1893, 142–71). The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. ‘Denys l’Auxerrois.’ Imaginary Portraits, in The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold.’ Imaginary Portraits, in The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold.’ originally published in Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1887, reprinted in The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. ‘Emerald Uthwart.’ in New Review, June and July, 1892, reprinted in The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. ‘Giordano Bruno.’ Fortnightly Review, ii, August 1889, 234–244, reprinted in The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. ‘Sebastian van Stork.’ Imaginary Portraits, in The Works of Walter Pater. The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. Gaston de Latour, The Revised Text, introduction/annotation, Apparatus Criticus, Gerald Monsman, ed. Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 1995.

Pater, Walter. Marius the Epicurean in The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Pater, Walter. The Works of Walter Pater, The Library Edition, C.L. Shadwell, ed., 10 vols. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1910 [reprinted 1911, 1912, 1912, 1914, and 1923].

Secondary Sources

Brake, Laurel and Ian Small, eds. Pater in the ‘90s. Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 1991.

Brake, Laurel and Ian Small. ‘Pater’s Body Shop,’ Incontrare I mostri: Varaiozioni sul tema letterature inglese angloamericana, ed. Maria, Theresa Chilant. Napoli: Edisioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2002.

Brake, Laurel and Ian Small. ‘The Entangling Dance.’ Walter Pater: Transparencies of Desire, ed. Laurel Brake, Lesley Higgins, and Carolyn Williams. Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 2002. ed. Pater Newsletter, #36 (Spring 2003), 22–23.

Burdett, Osbert. Introduction to Marius the Epicurean. London, Everyman’s Liberary, Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1968.

Chandler, Edmund. ‘Pater on Style: An Examination of the ‘Essay on Style’ and the Textual History of Marius the Epicurean,’ in Anglistica, vol xz. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1958.

Coste, Bénédicte. ‘An Untimely Soul?’ The Reception of Walter Pater in Europe, ed. Stephen Bann. London and New York: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

Dellamora, Richard. Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Dellamora, Richard. Victorian Sexual Dissidence. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1999.

Higgins, Lesley. ‘No Time for Pater: Breaking the Homophobic Silence,’ The Modernist Cult of Ugliness: Aesthetic and Gender Politics. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Inman, Billie Andrew. Chapter II, Laurel Brake and Ian Small, eds. Pater in the ‘90s. Greensboro. NC: ELT Press, 2002.

Levey, Michael. The Case of Walter Pater. New York and Plymouth: Thames and Hudson/Latimer Trend & Co., Ltd., 1978.

Monsman, Gerald Cornelius. Pater’s Portraits: Mythic Pattern in the Fiction of Walter Pater. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1967.

Sadock, Geoffrey. The Ascent to Aesthetic Humanism: The Contemporary Critical Reception of Walter Pater, 2 vols., Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 1974. DAI 75–9232.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Seiler, R[obert] M[orris], ed. Walter Pater: A Life Remembered. Calgary, Canada: University of Calgary Press, 1987.

Taylor, Martin, ed. Lads: Love Poetry in the Trenches. London: Duckworth, 2002.

Wright, Thomas. The Life of Walter Pater, 2 vols. London: Everett and Company, 1907.

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Notes

1 Coste, Bénédicte, ‘An Untimely Soul?’ in The Reception of Walter Pater in Europe, ed. Stephen Bann. London and New York, 2004. (hereafter Coste)

2 Higgins, Lesley, ‘No Time for Pater: Breaking the Homophobic Silence,’ in The Modernist Cult of Ugliness: Aesthetic and Gender Politics. Basingstoke and New York, 2002. (hereafter Higgins)

3 Brake, ‘Dance’

Brake, PN36

Brake and Small

Brake, ‘Body Shop’

Dellamora, Richard, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism. Chapel Hill, 1990. (hereafter Dellamora, Masc.Desire)

Dellamora, Richard, Victorian Sexual Dissidence. Chicago and London, 1999. (hereafter Dellamora, Dissidence)

Higgins

Inman, Billie Andrew, Chapter II, Pater in the ‘90s, Greensboro, NC, 1991. (hereafter Inman)

Monsman

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York, 1985. (hereafter Sedgwick)

Seiler

Shuter, William, Sunsite. The Outing of Walter Pater. February 1997.

http://sunsite.berkeley.edu:8080/s...e/484/article/shuter.art484.html.

4 Burdett, Osbert, Introduction to Marius the Epicurean. London, 1968. (hereafter Burdett)

5 Ibid.

6 Pater, Walter, Marius, Chapter XIV in Pater, Works, 230-243.

7 Chandler, Edmund, ‘Pater on Style: An Examination of the “Essay on Style” and the Textual History of Marius the Epicurean,’ in Anglistica, vol.xz. Copenhagen, 1958. 1-80 (hereafter Chandler)

8 Ibid., 78.

9 Ibid., 24.

10 Ibid., 76-78.

11 Sadock, Geoffrey, The Ascent to Aesthetic Humanism: The Contemporary Critical Reception of Walter Pater, Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 1974. DAI 75-9232. (hereafter Sadock) Vol. I, 383, note 131.

12 Pater, Walter ‘Apollo in Picardy,’ in Miscellaneous Studies [originally published in Harper's Magazine (November 1893)], in Pater, Works, 142-171.

13 Ibid., 144.

14 Ibid., 156.

15 Ibid., 168.

16 Ibid.

17 Pater, Walter, ‘Denys l'Auxerrois,’ in Imaginary Portraits, in Pater, Works, 64.

18 Ibid., 70.

19 Ibid., 75.

20 Ibid., 76.

21 Ibid., 76.

22 Pater, ‘Sebastian van Storck,’ in Imaginary Portraits, in Pater, Works, 81-115.

23 Ibid, 83.

24 Ibid., 103.

25 Ibid., 110.

26 Ibid., 113.

27 Ibid., 114.

28 Ibid.

29 Pater, ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold,’ Imaginary Portraits, in Pater, Works, 119-153

30 Ibid., 138.

31 Pater, ‘Emerald Uthwart,’ in New Review (June and July 1892); reprinted in Miscellaneous Studies, in Pater, Works, 197-246. (hereafter Pater, ‘Emerald’).

32 Ibid., 201.

33 Ibid., 206.

34 Ibid., 207.

35 Ibid., 217.

36 Ibid., 225.

37 Martin Taylor, ed., Lads: Love Poetry in the Trenches. London, 2002.

38 Pater, ‘Emerald,’ 232.

39 Ibid., 233.

40 Ibid., 237.

41 Ibid., 246.

42 Ibid., 7.

43 Ibid., 42.

44 There is no documentary proof that Pater compiled notes, or attempted an essay on Montaigne. That he was familiar with the latter is attested by Chapter V in Gaston, Sadock.

45 Pater, Gaston, 53.

46 Fortnightly Review, ii, August 1889, 234-244.

47 Pater, Gaston 79.

48 Ibid., 83.

49 Ibid., 81.

50 There is no documentary proof that Pater compiled notes, or attempted an essay on Montaigne. That he was familiar with the latter is attested by Chapter V in Gaston, Sadock.

51 Levey, Michael, The Case of Walter Pater. New York and Plymouth, 1978, 30. (hereafter Levey)

52 Ibid., 30.

53 Ibid., 31; based on ‘Child in the House,’ Miscellaneous Studies, in Pater, Works, 190-192.

54 Seiler, R[obert] M[orris], Walter Pater: A Life Remembered. Calgary, Canada, 1987, xii.

55 Pater's harsh criticism of The Picture of Dorian Gray can be found in: ‘A Novel by Mr Oscar Wilde,’ in Bookman (London), i (November 1891), 59-60. Reprinted in both Uncollected Essays (Portland, Maine, 1903) and Sketches and Reviews (New York, 1919). Pater disliked Wilde's unbridled hedonism, his divorce of the pursuit of beauty from the moral aspect in human experience, and especially Lord Henry Wotton's misquoting The Renaissance and other works.

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Geoffrey Johnston Sadock, « Dark Aesthete: Gothic Elements in the Fiction of Walter Pater »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 69 | 2009, mis en ligne le 27 juin 2019, consulté le 15 août 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cve/5829; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/cve.5829

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Geoffrey Johnston Sadock

Bergen Community College—Paramus, N. J.
JOHNSTON SADOCK Geoffrey, PhD, is a full professor of English at Bergen Community College (Paramus, NJ). He holds degrees from the City University of New York, Tufts University, and Brown University. His areas of special interest are Victorian poetry and prose, aesthetics, and critical theory. He has published on Dickens, Trollope, Pater, and Tennyson.

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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