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131 1. Walter Pater« Toward a Reconsideration Michael Levey. The Case of Walter Pater (Lond« Thames & Hudson, 1978). $14.95. There is a strong case to be made for Walter Pater, as essayist, critic, and writer of short fiction. But Michael Levey deftly avoids assuming clear responsibility for such a defense. "Walter Pater is a case - in many senses, including the one admitted as colloquial by the American College Dictionary « 'a peculiar or unusual person.'" Levey's ambiguous stance persists through much of this otherwise useful work. Like Pater himself, Mr. Levey art historian, Director of the National Gallery in London and one-time Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge - is writing on a topic outside of his particular metier. On the other hand, Levey follows Pater's own example. He writes sympathetically about a fellow appreciator of the visual and plastic arts, and curiously enough also a one-time, failed candidate for a Slade Professorship. Pater scholar Lawrence Evans recently observed that "the relatively sheltered quality of his [Pater's] life hardly seems to invite traditional full-dress biography." Levey's book is certainly not full-dress biography; it does, however, classify as Evans· other alternative. "Whatever the obstacles, an interpretive 'portrait' at least, an informed reading of the personality revealed and half concealed in his writings and in the outward patterns of his life, is a prime requisite in Pater studies." Levey does survey rather carefully Pater's entire life, but for all its detail the book at its best does indeed achieve the unity and clarity of purpose necessary in an interpretive portrait. The book offers a unique if not radical perspective on a unique, and often peculiar critic whose importance is only now beginning to be rediscovered by modern critics who are his unconscious heirs. Like most readings of Pater's personality, Levey's leans very heavily on the autobiographical hints in Pater's work, but the greatest annoyance to the general reader may be Levey's insinuations concerning Pater's sexual preferences. This important area (at least by modern standards) of personality remains a temptation and a threat to Pater's biographers. Levey rehearses the usual early connections of Pater with proven homosexuals. He does so, however, with less critical bias than Rupert Croft-Cooke did in an earlier treatment of these relationships (Feasting with Panthers , 1968). Elsewhere in the book, however, Levey seems intent on suggesting not only homosexuality, but other aberrant tendencies as well. On the positive side, the exploration of the close relationship of Pater with his sisters provides some of the best insights in the book. Unfortunately, Levey is not content with a single hint about the extreme closeness of the relationship. Later insinuations become annoying and convey little more than diverse speculations about Pater's sexual impulses. More serious faults, from the scholar's point of view, include the lack of careful analysis of appropriate manuscript sources and the inadequacy 132 of notes. For all his obvious reliance on Thomas Wright's and A. C. Benson's earlier biographies, there are few specific attributions . Such apparatus would have reassured the scholar without , I think, unduly distracting the general reader. The strengths and successes of Levey's book, however, outweigh any annoyances with petty thesis-grinding and lack of scholarly apparatus. The strengths include painstaking exploration of the Pater genealogy, as well as investigation of local details in Stepney, Enfield and Canterbury. In the light of Pater's abiding interest in "local genius," such factual descriptive and historical excursions are not only charming but also highly pertinent to understanding the personality of Pater. The developed portrait of Pater and his two King's School classmates, Henry Dombrain and John Rainier McQueen helps dramatize the importance for Pater of personal friendships and loyalties. Pater emerges as the poorest but brightest of this triumvirate, an alliance of talent and intelligence in early Victorian Canterbury and Harbledown. Among the most searching and original parts of the book are Levey's portrayals of the two perhaps most enigmatic characters in Pater's Oxford life, John Rainier McQueen and Charles Launcelot Shadwell. In chapter five Levey draws on a collection of letters at Indiana University...


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pp. 131-133
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Will Be Archived 2021
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