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Chapter 1 - ‘Of the true family of Montaigne’: Appreciations and the Essay Tradition in English Literature

from Part I - General

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 November 2023

Charles Martindale
Affiliation:
University of Bristol
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Affiliation:
University of York
Lene Østermark-Johansen
Affiliation:
University of Copenhagen
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Summary

Appreciations represents a significant contribution to nineteenth-century literary historiography and to the delineation of the English essay tradition. Pater’s book asserts the centrality of Romanticism and develops a historical schema for the essay in conscious opposition to the prevailing narrative, prominently articulated by Arnold, of eighteenth-century prose as the apogee of the achievement in that mode, an English Attic prose style derived from French neoclassicism. Pater sets a modern tradition of prose derived from Montaigne and inaugurated by English writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This alternative genealogy epitomises the romantic impulse of English literature. Pater’s treatment of the literary tradition and the development of English prose constitutes a pointed response to the late-Victorian recuperation of Augustan and neoclassical literature undertaken by critics such as Leslie Stephen, George Saintsbury, and W. J. Courthope, associated with the rise of English Studies and the campaign for the institutionalisation of English at Oxford and Cambridge.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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