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2 - ‘A Passionate Coldness’

Walter Pater

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2023

Sarah Green
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
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Summary

For many in the late nineteenth-century Pater was a by-word for sensual pleasure and sexual licence, and it is this Pater that dominates Decadent Studies today. But many Victorians read Pater as recommending austere discipline and sensuous continence. Restraint can be read as central to Pater’s attempt to base a practical ethic on sceptical, aesthetic principles. Sense experience was crucially important to this ethic. But Pater repeatedly distinguishes between healthy, productive sensuousness, and a harmful sensuality that he associates with an excess of transience, disease, and death. He represents continence as evidence of the personal discipline that allows the aesthete to effectively filter the good from the bad, the healthy from the unhealthy, in objects or periods or people; as he put it, to make ‘use of the flower, when the fruit perhaps was useless or poisonous’. And although Pater always leaves interpretative space for continent eroticism, especially homoeroticism, in his texts, attending to restraint is crucial for understanding his late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reception.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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  • ‘A Passionate Coldness’
  • Sarah Green, University of Oxford
  • Book: Sexual Restraint and Aesthetic Experience in Victorian Literary Decadence
  • Online publication: 02 March 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108917490.003
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  • ‘A Passionate Coldness’
  • Sarah Green, University of Oxford
  • Book: Sexual Restraint and Aesthetic Experience in Victorian Literary Decadence
  • Online publication: 02 March 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108917490.003
Available formats
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • ‘A Passionate Coldness’
  • Sarah Green, University of Oxford
  • Book: Sexual Restraint and Aesthetic Experience in Victorian Literary Decadence
  • Online publication: 02 March 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108917490.003
Available formats
×