Walter Pater's ‘strange veil of sight’

Catherine Maxwell

in Second Sight

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780719071447
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781701096 | DOI:
Walter Pater's ‘strange veil of sight’

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This chapter examines how, in Pater, a writer heavily associated with sensory relations, there is a strong pull to the visionary or unseen. It explores his obsession with the strange visionary phantasm or trace he calls character, which appears as a refined essence in all perfected form, this process of refinement drawing on Romantic descriptions of literary alchemy. Death and the process of sculptural subtraction present alternative versions of this refinement as, for Pater, this essence is most potently legible in the sculptural body and the beautiful corpse that preserves the marks of life in death. Although most evidently present in comely young men, it is none the less theorised by him as a principle epitomised in Persephone, the young woman snatched away at the height of her youth and beauty to dwell as life-in-death in the Underworld. Such images, again progenitors of the Romantic Image, illuminate the process whereby all aesthetic images stage the uncanny life-in-death and death-in-life of the objects they represent.

Keywords: visionary phantasm; trace; Persephone; Romanticism; death; refinement

Chapter.  23190 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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