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Chapter 12 - Walter Pater, Charles Lamb, and ‘the value of reserve’

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

Pater describes the writings of Charles Lamb as ‘an excellent illustration of the value of reserve in literature’. The remark is surprising because Lamb more often is celebrated for the warm familiarity of his essays rather than the withholding and coolness associated with reserve. It is Pater himself who was famed for his reserve, shy in company and elusive in his writing. But his essay on Lamb identifies a different quality of reserve and the different ways in which it can operate as an element of literary style. The humour of Lamb’s writing is a form of reserve that conceals the tragic facts of his life. Such concealment works through excess and deflection, masking the personal without seeming too remote or buttoned-up. What Pater values in Lamb provides insight into the peculiar reserve of his own writing, with its paradoxical mix of the personal and impersonal, and its style that is at once so elusive and so individually distinctive.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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