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Chapter 10 - ‘Spiritual Form’: Walter Pater’s Encounters with William Blake

from Part II - Individual Authors: Early Moderns, Romantics, Contemporaries

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

The relationship between the arts was central to Pater. Although Pater never devoted a whole essay to Blake, his name surfaces in discussions about form and style, soul and mind. This chapter traces Pater’s engagement with Blake, focusing on Blake’s function in Pater’s anachronic poetics. He appreciates Michelangelo through Hugo and Blake, who features as a ‘“survival” from a different age’ in essays on Demeter and Dionysus. Exhibitions in 1871 and 1876 present Blake’s allegorical portraits of Pitt, Nelson, and Napoleon as ‘Spiritual Forms’, a dystopian title Pater paradoxically repurposed to capture an embodied aesthetic and heal the separation between form and content. Comparison with Blake’s Descriptive Catalogue (1809) reveals how both Blake and Pater look to sculpture to develop an ideal of the human form divine. Explicit references to Blake’s illustrations to Job and Robert Blair’s The Grave reveal the role played by visual images in Pater’s writing, illuminating the inter-art dynamics of his critical practice. Pater’s Blake brings out a discipline of literary form that is shaped by a multisensorial aesthetic.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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