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Chapter 3 - Pater’s Montaigne and the Selfish Reader

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

Pater acquired a copy of William Carew Hazlitt’s new edition of Montaigne’s Essays published in 1877. This chapter begins by drawing out similarities in the reception of Pater and Montaigne, both of whose writings were assailed for their egotism, scepticism, and sensuality. Such parallels laid the foundations for Pater’s adoption of Montaigne as a proxy for defending his own critical enterprise. Pater’s highly revisionist account of Montaigne hails him not only as a far subtler thinker and moralist than had hitherto been acknowledged in his English reception, but also as a model of aesthetic finesse, demonstrated above all in his engagement with literature. Rather than contesting the charge of self-centredness, Pater defends Montaigne’s incisive interest in his own various and volatile responsiveness as the essential precondition for any criticism worth having. Curious and sociable, the Selfish Reader as represented by Montaigne cherishes the opportunity to view things from different angles and to probe new possibilities for the self, which is never simply given but always at stake in its encounters.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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