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Book Reviews with long, useful annotations of Pater's writings. But the notes refer to the versions published in contemporary periodicals, rather than to the later versions published in book form, even when those later, more accessible versions are largely unchanged. Perhaps that represents solid scholarly practice, but it can make things very difficult for the reader who has misplaced his copy of the back files of Macmillan's Magazine and the Fortnightly Review. All in all, those interested in Pater—and that select little group is growing rapidly—owe Professor Inman a substantial debt for the good work she has done. But at the same time it seems reasonable to wish that she would actually compose the intellectual biography that seems to have been fermenting and, one hopes, taking shape for so long. Robert Keefe University of Massachusetts The Religion of Art Leon Chai. Aestheticism: The Religion of Art in Post-Romantic Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. xiv + 269 pp. $32.50 THOUGH THE RELIGION OF ART is prominent in post-Romantic literature, it has received little close attention as a central motif in Aestheticism. At first glance, the subtitle of Leon Chai's book suggests that the author has taken up the challenge, but he is, in fact, principally interested in the means by which the imagination symbolizes experience and embodies it in a work of art. Hence, despite occasional observations about the employment of religious imagery for the expression of secular experience, Chai devotes most of his time in delineating, often in rather opaque prose, the quest for form in life and art as a central preoccupation of the Aesthetic Movement and the means by which the Paterian flux may be transcended. In small doses, the prose does yield some suggestive and important points. In his preface, Chai suggests that "in a sense all of Aestheticism might be said to emerge out of the twilight of a waning religious faith in the later nineteenth century. At the heart of the Aesthetic movement is a desire to redefine the relation of art to life, to impart to life itself the form of a work of art and thereby raise it to a higher level of existence." (Though Chai talks of the emergence of Aestheticism "in the later 349 ELT: VOLUME 34:3, 1991 nineteenth century," he points to Gautier's famous preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin in 1835 regarding the autonomy of art.) Other than the passing reference to "a waning religious faith," Chai ignores other cultural developments contributing to the rise of Aestheticism—such as the increasing emphasis on positivism and the scientific advances of the early and mid-Victorian period as well as a progressive democratization of nineteenth-century society. Central to the Religion of Art and, indeed, to Aestheticism is an anti-democratic bias, the result of the Aesthete's conviction that high art is beyond bourgeois understanding. At the outset, Chai alludes to Ruskin's reaction to the Basilica of St. Mark's in Venice as a paradigm of the sacramental experience of Art: "... all our transactions with such objects [Chai states] become endowed with a kind of consecration, whose ultimate effect is to sanctify each moment of our existence with a natural rather than otherworldly grace." And in "Harmonie du Soir," with its imagery of a censer, altar, and monstrance, Baudelaire suggests "hints of the sacred": "By associating these with the ritual of the mass, he imparts to them a specifically religious coloring. ... a medium of our initiation into a new form of religious experience." (At the end of an entire chapter on "Harmonie," Chai concludes with a commonplace: "What the poet ultimately affirms, then, is the creative capacity of the imaginative faculty.") In the imagery and setting of a Rossetti sonnet, "For an Annunciation: Early German," Chai remarks, "the visible world now becomes endowed with a sacred aura which is as a consecration of the material sphere through the transforming influence of the inspired consciousness that perceives it." Such labored prose is the cross—to use an evocative religious symbol for aesthetic purposes—that the reader must too often bear with the patience of Job. On occasion, Chai seems to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 349-352
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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