Unravelling Pater's English Poet: The Imaginary Portrait as Criticism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review

Pater’s short pieces of prose fiction, known as his ‘Imaginary Portraits’, can be read as literary criticism in another mode, dealing with English literature and also with European literature more broadly. This chapter focuses on the portraits with an English setting: ‘The Child in the House’ (1878), the relatively polished, but unfinished fragment ‘An English Poet’ (1878-79), and the short manuscript fragment for Pater’s third novel entitled ‘Thistle’ (late 1880s). They are texts in which Pater engages with English literature of the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries: with Shakespeare, Browne, and Bunyan; and with Coleridge, Lamb, and Wordsworth––writers who had been or would become the subjects of his literary essays or reviews in the 1870s and 1880s. In his concern with Bildung, with the becoming of the poet or aesthete, Pater follows Sainte-Beuve and his portraits littéraires quite closely, and the English portraits should be read as the confluence of English Romanticism and the influence from Sainte-Beuve. They are a celebration of the power of the imagination, of the powers of reading, and the effects of literature on the formation of character. In the case of the English poet, I shall explore wherein his ‘Englishness’ consists, given that, in terms of blood-lines, he is Anglo-French. Much of this Englishness may be related to the English language and his reading of English literature, but, I would argue, ‘An English Poet’ also becomes the forerunner of the essay on ‘Style’ a decade later. Anglo-French discourse, the style is the man, Wordsworth, Flaubert: all are contained in this earlier imaginary portrait.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWalter Pater and the Beginnings of English Literature
EditorsCharles Martindale, Lene Østermark-Johansen, Elizabeth Prettejohn
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication date2023
ISBN (Print)978-1-108-83589-3
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 374050634