The hidden laughter of women: an aspect of Pater's sensibility.
At first sight, it may not seem profitable to explore the views of women entertained by a celibate Oxford lecturer, working in an all-male environment, who freely admitted his admiration for the beauty of young men. (1) Further acquaintance with Pater's work reveals a wide variety of female characters contemplated in painting, myth, history, and fiction. Apart from the obvious point that Pater found them significant in diverse ways, no generalization could embrace all the women he touches on or discusses at length: Nicolette, Shakespeare's Isabella, Feuillet's Aliette, Merimee's Colomba, Botticelli's Madonnas and Venus, David's Marie Antoinette, Demeter and Persephone, Antiope, Phaedra and Artemis in "Hippolytus Veiled," Faustina and Marguerite, Vittoria Colonna, Saint Catherine of Siena, Marie Marguerite Pater, Marius' mother, Cecilia, Gabrielle de Latour and numerous others. However, among these many female figures, there are a few who act as vehicles of disturbing enlightenment, women whose detached amusement challenges the onlooker and whose range of knowledge and experience are of an unexpected depth. They offer journeys into new ways of feeling and understanding.
Specific and relatively limited though this topic is, it still has the problems inherent in any thematic exploration encompassing work from different periods of a writer's career. There is a danger in juxtaposing figures produced in varied contexts and, perhaps, serving dissimilar purposes. Possibly the subject is too volatile and centrifugal to yield a coherent pattern. However, if such a pattern does emerge without forcing, it might illuminate the development of Pater's thought from a new angle. It may be useful to examine together three of Pater's female images; the mysterious face which is the object of the painter's quest in "Leonardo da Vinci" (1869), the figure of Faustina in Marius the Epicurean (1885-86), and that of Marguerite of Navarre from the unfinished section of Gaston de Latour. This portion of Pater's uncompleted novel is particularly interesting since he continued to work on it up to his death (1894). It remained unpublished until many years later.
In order to understand the full significance of the image of women in "Leonardo da Vinci" it is necessary to consider the structure of that essay as a whole. Both the structure and the tone of "Leonardo da Vinci" are shaped by a series of deliberate rejections. Pater denies the reader several possible explanations of Leonardo, closing avenues of enquiry that might have appeared both interesting and fruitful. Throughout the essay he offers a series of delicate yet palpable affronts to various recognized expectations and standards. "Leonardo da Vinci," for example, begins and ends with disparaging, even mildly mocking comments on minute scholarship ("Mere antiquarianism has in this direction little more to do" (2) and "Two questions remain after much busy antiquarianism.... They are of about equally little importance" ). From the first, Pater strikes a note of scepticism about the materials as well as the methods of scholarship. The two editions of Vasari's Lives of the Painters, the main source, present quite different pictures of Leonardo. In the first, he is a "bold speculator" (77), in the second "something fainter and more conventional." If that were not unsettling enough, later criticism has not left a single one of the anecdotes on which the popular image of Leonardo rests, "untouched" (78). The premises of what we have long taken as knowledge ("later writers merely copied it") are flawed and unreliable.
Gently but firmly, Pater dismisses the apparently obvious topic of Leonardo as the anticipator of the modern scientific revolution. Clearly such a view would have appealed to a common nineteenth century admiration for scientific progress of which Macaulay's essay on Francis Bacon (1831) is a seminal document. (Many recent exhibitions and TV programs suggest that this way of looking at Leonardo is still potent). For Pater, the giant cranes and flying machines of the Notebooks that "later writers" see "as an anticipation of modern mechanics" (82) are "dreams, thrown off by a labouring and overwrought brain." Mere "tricks of design," diversions on which he "wasted many days," they distracted Leonardo from his deeper, more authentic purposes. Rather than a quest for the science of the future, they were a kind of temporary affliction in which "smitten with a love of the impossible" (82) the great painter seemed "to lose himself in the spinning of intricate devices."
Throughout "Leonardo da Vinci," Pater denies his reader familiar matter for edification. His initial rejection of a forthright, combative Leonardo, challenging his time, is a (calculated) disappointment for members of a generation still being reared on Carlyle's Heroes and Hero Worship. Here, the structure of Pater's sentence teases the reader, offering a possibility it then withdraws, dissipating the show of Leonardo's rebelliousness into something else, which, given Victorian expectations, is unsettling: "Words of his, trenchant enough to justify this impression, are not recorded ... out of keeping with a genius of which one characteristic is the tendency to lose itself in a refined and graceful mystery" (77).
Pater dismisses the notion of Leonardo as a Ruskinian artist as carefully as he sets aside notions of the painter as a Carlylean hero or a proto-Baconian pioneer of science. His technique here is to turn Leonardo's master Verrochio into a Ruskinian painter whom his apprentice then supersedes. Pater extrapolates Vasari's brief and somewhat dismissive view of Andrea Del Verrochio, endowing him with all the characteristics Ruskin had most admired. Where Vasari briefly remarks that Verrochio's success was the result of "unremitting study rather than any natural gift or facility," (3) Pater develops a detailed, somewhat touching picture:
Verrochio was an artist of the earlier Florentine type, carver, painter, worker in metals, in one; designer, not of pictures only, but of all things for sacred or household life ... making them fair to look upon, filling the common ways of life with the reflexion of some far off brightness; and years of patience had refined his hand. (79)
Every feature of this description conforms to Ruskin's model of an artist of the "great schools," including the Florentine, who is "praised not for what is different in him from others ... but only for doing most strongly what we all are endeavouring" (4) and whose art grows out of "local associations and hereditary skill." (5)
Pater states the Ruskinian ideal fairly, even winningly, but states it only to dismiss it. Verrochio's diligence, self-sacrifice, his "years of patience" within the bounds of his inherited skills, his honourable social tradition, are all unavailing. In the encounter with Leonardo he is erased, turning aside in despair from the angel his pupil has painted. For Pater, the episode embodies a mysterious but inevitable injustice in matters of art or intellect: "It was one of those moments in which the progress of a great thing--here that of the art of Italy--presses hard and sharp on the happiness of an individual" (79-80). Replete with all the Ruskinian craftsmanly virtues though it may be, the older style of painting is suddenly outmoded, as Pater, in almost brutal phrases insists ("the cold laboured old picture ... after all in the old slight manner" ). Art does not progress as Ruskin taught, by sober work within some wholesome tradition of corporate labor. Rather, the "way to perfection" (in another arresting phrase) is "through a series of disgusts" (81). Mastering and repeating the "old Florentine style" completely, Leonardo found in "the perfection of that style" some seed of discontent, which lay in the secret places of his nature. Clearly, it is with the "secret places" of Leonardo's nature and the image that lurked within them that Pater is most concerned.
At first sight, the shady byways of Renaissance occultism might seem a way to understand these secrets. The work of Frances Yates, Edgar Wind, and Jean Seznec has demonstrated the appeal of Hermeticism and Neoplatonist iconography in our own day. No doubt, there were those in Pater's time who found an esoteric field equally beguiling, confident that its obscurity guaranteed its significance. If they did, Pater gives them no encouragement in Leonardo's case. The painter's hermeticism had "much of the spirit of the older alchemy, with its confidence in short cuts and odd byways to knowledge" (84). Yet, though Leonardo may have felt occult philosophy promised a "strange swiftness and double sight," in pursuing it "his clear purpose was overclouded" (107). Its effect on his work was sterile and "at one period of his life he had almost ceased to be an artist" (108). Nor does his interest in esoteric teachings elucidate Leonardo himself: "The mystery which at no point quite lifts from Leonardo's life is deepest here" (84).
In "Leonardo da Vinci," Pater proceeds by a critical or aesthetic equivalent of apophatic theology, a defining of the object by a series of negations. With a ruthlessness striking in so gentle a writer, he dismisses various tempting hypotheses about Leonardo in order to guide us to one that, however elusive it may be, is the nearest approximation to the truth. Consider, for example, the way in which Pater handles the subject of Leonardo's sexuality. Might not some disharmony between the painter's emotional life and what his society approved be the clue to his mystery? Blandly, Pater denies such a possibility. His reference to Leonardo's lifelong attachment to Andrea Salaino, "his favourite pupil and servant" who was "beloved ... for his curled and waving hair," is deliberately casual. Perhaps we know about, and may attach too much importance to this relationship because evidence of it has survived while information about other of Leonardo's connections has been lost: "Of all the interests in living men and women which may have filled his life in Milan, this attachment alone is recorded" (92). The effect of the latter part of this paragraph (91-92) is to shift attention from Leonardo's conjectural amorous relations to his inner quest, a "solitary culture of beauty [that] seems to have hung upon a kind of self-love" (92). The detachment that his "solitary culture" confirmed rendered Leonardo immune to the "brilliant sins and exquisite amusements" (85-86) of the depraved Sforza court of Milan: "To Leonardo least of all men could there be anything poisonous in the exotic flowers of sentiment which grew there" (85). Leonardo's sexuality is clearly as much a blind alley as the other approaches Pater has deprecated.
Ineluctably we are being led to those "secret places of a unique temperament" from which Leonardo "brought forth strange blossoms and fruits hitherto unknown." There is some plausibility in the complaint of an early reviewer of The Renaissance that Pater suspended his subject before him "as if it were indeed a kind of air plant independent of ordinary sources of nourishment." (6) The point the reviewer missed was that, as the example of Leonardo suggests, Pater rejected many contextualizing approaches deliberately. However much they may have lent themselves to scholarly speculation, to the unearthing of out-of-the-way facts, or the solving of conundrums, they did not touch the springs of Leonardo's nature and achievement.
Rejecting all the false trails leaves the way clear to understanding the personal and aesthetic problems Leonardo faced and the solutions to them that eventually emerged from his inner consciousness. For Pater, Leonardo's dilemma lay in the conflict between "the two elementary forces" (86) of his genius, "curiosity and the desire of beauty." Although a personal characteristic, Leonardo's curiosity was akin to the "modern spirit" of his time, expressed in a desire to penetrate into "the most secret parts of nature" (86) and "into the human personality." Richly endowed both intellectually and as an artist, Leonardo suffered a "struggle between reason and its ideas" (88) on the one hand and "the senses, the desire of beauty" on the other. This conflict "tended to make him go too far below that outside of things in which art begins and ends" (88).
Such comments make a challenging claim for the value and autonomy of the aesthetic. The worth of art does not rest on philosophical or intellectual profundity. Somewhat mischievously, given Carlyle's and Arnold's admiration for him, Pater cites Goethe as a salutary example of "over-much science" (89), of a failure to "find the spell-word" which would cast intellectual perception into aesthetic form: "The second part of Faust presents us with a mass of science which has almost no artistic character at all." Pater's quiet remark would shock many of his contemporaries who saw the second part of Faust as the great explanation of the nineteenth century, the celebration of an age of change and dynamism. In Arnold's well known assertion, there were "no persons so thoroughly modern as those who have felt Goethe's influence most deeply." (7)
For Pater, Leonardo had succeeded, where Goethe had failed, in capturing artistically a great change in human consciousness and perception. He solved his "problem" of "the transmutation of ideas into images" (88), discovering the "spell-word." The binding thread of his career was the quest for a dominant and compelling image, a vehicle for "those divinations of a humanity too wide" (88) for the "naive and limited sensuousness" of earlier Florentine painting.
A casual reference to the models in relief which Leonardo designed in his earliest years ("of which Vasari mentions some of women smiling" ) announces the beginning of the painter's quest and the leitmotiv of Pater's essay. This hint is then taken up and developed: "Two ideas were especially fixed in him, as reflexes of things that had touched his brain in childhood beyond the measure of other impressions--the smiling of women and the motion of great waters" (82). "Reflexes" implies that even at this early stage, these "ideas" were created by Leonardo, not merely received by him.
Hints of the "extremes of terror and beauty" interfused these early studies in "the smiling of women" and "the motion of great waters." Leonardo pursued every trace of the image that embodied them: "Catching glimpses of it in the strange eyes or hair of chance people" (105) he followed and sketched them until sunset. The search at times produced an irritability in which in drawings of a "curious beauty" he mingled an "element of mockery also" (105). "Whether in sorrow or scorn" he even caricatured figures from Dante's Divine Comedy.
Where Vasari attributes Leonardo's habit of abandoning projects to the boredom of a "volatile and unstable" (8) mind able to master so many things so quickly, Pater departs from this account, his primary source. Instead, he portrays the painter's "endless retouchings and odd experiments" (88) as the result of his as yet unfulfilled quest.
The essay traces that quest through a succession of female faces which mark the stages of a gradual revelation. Pater tells the story of Leonardo's two versions of Medusa in such a way as to suggest a nature delving deeper into itself, moving from childish fancies (although the subject of those fancies is significant) to a profounder understanding of what its day-dreams involve. Again, Pater's alterations of Vasari's account are a clue to the meaning of "Leonardo da Vinci." In Vasari, Leonardo paints an "altogether monstrous and horrible" (9) Medusa emerging from the cleft of a rock. Unexpectedly coming on the work, Leonardo's father was "completely taken by surprise and gave a sudden start," thinking the monster was real. Reassured by Leonardo, he secretly sold his son's Medusa to some Florentine merchants for a hundred ducats. In his account of this episode, Pater imports a childishness not found in his source. The Medusa is "not the serious work of a man, but the experiment of a child" (83). The father's astonishment is "pretended," indulging a son who has prepared a surprise for him.
Pater makes this change for two reasons: to show that the marriage of beauty and terror was present in the face of a woman as a "fixed idea" in Leonardo's mind from the outset, and second, to indicate that the painter was impelled to explore it more deeply, thereby going further into his own mind: "It was not in play that he painted that other Medusa, the one great picture he left behind him in Florence" (83). Although the subject has been treated in many ways, for Pater, Leonardo "alone cuts to its centre." What he saw was that the power of the terrible female face was the power of death over the human spirit. Death is the glare of the gorgon. Leonardo alone realizes Medusa "as the head of a corpse, exercising its powers through all the circumstances of death" (83). Even severed by Perseus, the power of the thing is not dispelled, since no heroic act can defeat the fear of death and the "fascination of corruption." This female face embodies unresolved and fearful enigmas. The fact that the "delicate snakes" which form Medusa's hair "seem literally strangling each other in the terrified struggle to escape from the Medusa brain" (83) shows that her mind must still be alive and her thoughts still potent. Her features are "massive" and "almost sliding down upon us" (83). Her hair of serpents and the other incidental horrors that surround her are less disturbing than the weight of an unanswerable mystery "like a great calm stone." Unsuppressed by male violence, this female face is weighted by the force of some riddle we cannot avoid. The dead yet living head, the paradox of beauty ("the dainty lines of the cheek" ) linked to horror ("the hue which violent death brings with it") challenges habitual categories of thought and feeling. The Medusa beckons to regions where grace itself is terrifying.
The passage in which Pater introduces the next stage of Leonardo's vision of the female is worth attention. Describing "a little drawing in red chalk" (90), a "face of doubtful sex" (10) in the Louvre, and "another drawing" that "might pass for the same face in childhood," he invites his readers to lay them side by side and to use the two as an introduction to Leonardo's view of woman: "We might take the thread of suggestion that these two drawings offer, when thus set side by side, and following it through the drawings at Florence, Venice and Milan, construct a sort of series, illustrating better than anything else Leonardo's type of womanly beauty" (91). Pater wishes to press a (somewhat tenuous) line of argument on his readers, coaxing them into seeing what he wishes. If a hostile critic saw the placing of the two drawings together as arbitrary, he might view the construction of a "sort of series" from drawings scattered over Italy as pure caprice. Even at the risk of pursuing a fugitive train of thought, Pater clearly has an intuition about the way Leonardo saw women that he feels is crucial. Central to this perception are the juxtapositions of youth and age, of sensuality and innocence. Pater has already begun to set the mood he wishes to develop in the preceding paragraph beginning "This curious beauty ..." (90). He contrasts the chastened lines of the "worn and older face" (90) of the mother in one Leonardo drawing, with a younger version of the same lines in the "fuller curves of the face of the child." This prepares the ground for considering the contrasting Louvre drawings, one with its "voluptuous and full" eyelids and lips, the other "which might pass for the same face in childhood" (91), its lips "parched and feverish" but with "much sweetness" in its "childish dress" and "daintily bound hair."
Clearly, Pater wishes to involve his readers in a world of double perceptions where faces may be seen at once as young and old, healthy or unwell, voluptuous or sweetly innocent. Throughout the whole of these two paragraphs (90-91), he has been sensitizing his readers' minds to the possibility of simultaneous contraries and preparing them to accept a fuller development of the inseparably joined beauty and horror of Leonardo's Medusa head.
Pater calls the women in the next series, illustrating "Leonardo's type of womanly beauty," the "Daughters of Herodias." In the light of the preceding paragraphs that juxtapose contrary qualities, Pater's term for these women is intriguing. In the biblical accounts, Salome is probably not the siren of popular legend performing a voluptuous dance. In Mark 6 she is a "damsel" who goes to ask her mother before making her monstrous request to the King whom she has "'pleased" by her dancing. In Matthew 14:8, "being before instructed" by Herodias, she knows what to say. Both versions point toward the actions of a child who may not even fully comprehend what her mother is instigating. Herod's pleasure in her dance might be that of an indulgent parent rather than the steamy, half-incestuous yearnings of Wilde's version. At any rate, the Salome of the primary sources is a figure whose uncertain meaning Pater chooses to emphasize. The "Daughters of Herodias" (91) wear "fantastic head dresses," but these are "knotted and folded so strangely to leave the dainty oval of the face disengaged." The disparate associations of extravagant headdresses with something delicate or "dainty" and the contrasting signals of "knotted" and "disengaged" make the figures hard to interpret in simple moral terms. Pater's comment that "they are not of the Christian family, or of Raffael's" is worth notice. "Family" suggests not so much the sphere of conscious intellectual or emotional choice as a web of kinship or association. The Daughters of Herodias have not deliberately rejected Christianity. They represent something genetically or physiologically outside it. They are simply another kind of being.
To say that they do not belong to the family of "Raffael" is to dissociate them from an artist Pater was later to describe as "one of the world's typical scholars." (11) Where, in Pater's interpretation, Raphael worked by patient acquisition of knowledge, becoming the figure par excellence of the cerebral artist, "Leonardo's type of womanly beauty" involves a faculty of going beyond what has been known and thought. The "Daughters of Herodias" are "clairvoyants" (91) through whom we become aware of the subtler forces of nature. What we learn involves one of Pater's delicate acts of subversion, one of those asides that, gliding almost unremarked past the reader's guard, involve disquieting consequences. The clairvoyant women are means whereby we become "aware of subtler forces of nature ... all those finer conditions wherein material things rise to that subtlety of operation which constitutes them spiritual" (91). The image of women is the vehicle of a new view of consciousness and of the relation between the spiritual and the physical. It is a view that questions the very nature and meaning of these categories. Are they indeed sharply divided? Could one shade almost imperceptibility into another?
Pater confirms and extends this association of femininity with new and unsettling knowledge in his comments on the "so-called Saint John the Baptist of the Louvre" (93). Although ostensibly a male ascetic figure, it is one "whose delicate brown flesh and woman's hair no one would go out into the wilderness to seek" (93). Its smile is "treacherous" not in the sense of threatening harm but in having us understand "something far beyond the outward gesture, or circumstance." The figure's femininity is associated with a bold reversal of those qualities generally associated with John the Baptist: roughness, self-denial, the heralding of a new spiritual evangel. The picture betrays those who go to it with conventional expectations. Its nominal subject becomes "the starting-point of a train of sentiment, as subtle and vague as a piece of music" (93). In fact, Leonardo's picture does offer a new evangel, which, while evading exact definition, subverts all its subject's traditional associations.
(One may digress to note that in "Leonardo da Vinci" Pater expresses a hostility to Christianity that later fades from his writings. This antipathy is most apparent in his comments on "The Last Supper." He links the fading of Leonardo's painting with a loss of freshness and vigor in Christianity. The figures of Christ and his disciples are "ghosts ... faint as the shadows of the leaves upon the wall on autumn afternoons" (95). Christ's own figure is "but the faintest, most spectral of them all" (95). In a passage that appeared in the first edition of The Renaissance and was later dropped, Pater goes on to remark that the painting's fading reflects what Christianity itself ("the history it symbolises" (12)) has become for the world, "paler and paler" as the events in the Gospel stories recede into the past. In the last sentence of the paragraph in the 1873 version, Pater shelters behind an ambiguity. He may be (and could always say he was) talking about the failure of art critics to propose convincing versions of the original figures in Leonardo's "Last Supper." However, the sentence has a more obvious meaning. Modern Biblical criticism, like that of Renan, with its attempt to substitute an "historical Jesus" for the Christ of dogmatic theology ("mystical unrealities") has failed. It cannot restore a life-like reality to "these transparent shadows, spirits which have not flesh and bones." Pater's dismissal of Christianity is relevant to the new messages the female images, the Medusa and the Daughters of Herodias, are supposed to offer.
There is an obvious problem in attempting to discuss Pater's description of La Gioconda. Often anthologized, familiar as no other passage in Pater's work, it occupies a place in what used to be called "fine writing," analogous to that of Leonardo's picture in the world of art. Both are instantly recognizable objects we have lived with so long that their meaning is ignored or taken for granted by many of us. It is all the more helpful to place this passage in the context of "Leonardo da Vinci" as a whole and, especially, to see it as the climax of a whole series of female images through which Pater has already colored his reader's minds.
In Pater's view, the exact time when the picture was produced is significant. It was painted in a period of relative relaxation in Florence after the religious fervours of the 1490's (exemplified in the Bonfire of the Vanities) had died down. While working on it, Leonardo moved "in the polished society that he loved ... left a little subject to light thoughts by the death of Savonarola" (96-97). This removal of religious and moral pressure connects La Gioconda with the Medusa's blend of terror and grace, the strange intimations about flesh and spirit of the Daughters of Herodias or the "treacherous smile" of the feminine John the Baptist. The "light thoughts" current in Florence around 1503 suggest a more relaxed attitude to sexuality. Pater toys with this idea, in a characteristically off-hand dismissal of minute scholarship ("The latest gossip  is of an undraped Mona Lisa found in some out-of-the-way corner of the late Orleans collection"). Perhaps Leonardo might have had some sexual involvement with the subject of his most famous painting. If he did, however, this matters far less than understanding the characteristic workings of the painter's mind. As he used religious subjects not for their own sake but as "symbolical language for fancies all his own," so he took "one of these languid women" and raised her to "the seventh heaven of symbolical expression." Like the earlier feminine icons in the essay, when placed in that region, she embodies opposite and conflicting qualities. She combines modesty and vanity, or the qualities of Leda whose perverse act of love with Zeus produced the fatal Helen and the murderous Clytenmestra, with the life-giving fertility of the goddess Pomona.
It is worth attending to the next paragraph (97-98), which introduces Pater's celebration of La Gioconda. The painting is not merely Leonardo's masterpiece, but the "revealing instance of his thought and work" (97). Pater reminds us of the processes by which this feminine image, the "master spell," has been found and what its intellectual and emotional significance is. That significance is comparable in its suggestiveness only to "the Melancholia of Durer" (123). A later comment in Imaginary Portraits elucidates Pater's meaning here. Duke Carl of Rosenmold, "rummaging in one of those old lumber rooms" (13) of the old castle comes upon an "odd volume" of the year 1486, the German humanist Conrad Celtes' Ars Versificandi, concluding with a poem begging Apollo to come from Italy to Germany. Celtes' friend, the "great Durer, whose frontispiece adorned the book, had shared his dream of a "real day amid the hyperborean German darkness" (123), a new age of thinking and feeling. Given this connection, it is likely that the suggestiveness of Durer's "Melancholy" is that of "the ghost-ridden yet deep-feeling ... German soul" (123), brooding on some great intellectual and moral change. The implications of the earlier female images in "Leonardo da Vinci" confirm Pater's intention in linking "La Gioconda" to Durer's "Melancholy." Both pictures embody great and hoped-for changes in sensibility. However, Leonardo's painting is not some simple allegory. Like the feminine "John the Baptist," which acts as the "starting point" of a "subtle and vague train of sentiment," "La Gioconda" offers a "subdued and graceful mystery" rather than "crude symbolism." Pater is interested in the power of those half-hidden workings of the mind and that subtle leavening of the consciousness that, far more than arguments, change how we feel. He identifies this power with something in femininity itself that Leonardo was seeking. Unlike the fading figures and dissolving meanings of "The Last Supper," "La Gioconda" is still working its changes upon us: "We all know the face ... Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least" (97).
The paragraph catches up and emphasizes points Pater has already made: that the face of "La Gioconda" has been found by other than skill or intellectual process ("invention"); that the face he painted was with Leonardo from the earliest time, perhaps "dimly traced" (98) in copying designs by Verrochio, his "by-past master" or "present from the first, incorporeally" (98) in his thought. The unfathomable smile had been there "from childhood, defining itself on the fabric of his dreams." As well as recapitulation, the paragraph is built around questions--about the relation of Leonardo's living Florentine subject to the "creature of his thought," about the "strange affinities" by which woman and dream came together, about the length of time (four years or four months) that the image took to project. The fact that no answers are offered to these riddles mirrors the limits of scholarly enquiry and prepares us for the great act of aesthetic intuition that fills the following famous paragraph.
Pater's description is not a detached rhapsody or autonomous prose poem but a precise account of layer upon layer of historical, cultural and psychological experience. It builds upon the cumulative effect of the earlier feminine images in "Leonardo da Vinci" and echoes their undefined but potent promises of escape from known categories of thought and feeling. Perhaps the defining point in the paragraph is the sentence, "Hers is the head upon which all 'the ends of the world are come' and the eyelids are a little weary" (98). The phrase "the ends of the world are come" is from I Corinthians 10:11. The biblical passage recounts the ancient miracles of Moses: the pillar of cloud that preceded the Children of Israel, the passing of the Red Sea, the striking of water from a rock. These it transforms allegorically as "examples," each prophetically forerunning aspects of the new Christian dispensation in a final fulfilment of the meaning of history. Pater's use of the phrase is a bold seizing upon and transformation of that whole idea of a new dispensation or the birth of a new consciousness. "La Gioconda" announces and embodies the change in sensibility already suggested in Leonardo's earlier visions of woman. The picture represents a modern consciousness produced by the different cultural, intellectual, and spiritual experiences of all the centuries that divide it from the relatively simple world of antiquity. A "beauty wrought out from within" (98) suggests the subtlety of a slow internal change within the mind and the ways in which alterations of consciousness produce an altered personal beauty. Slightly modified repetitions ("etched and moulded" and "delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids") continue the sense of a peculiarly tenuous and ratified process. At the same time, the passage carefully delineates each phase of culture or history, noting their separate contributions to the consciousness they eventually form. There is a significant difference between the "animalism" of ancient Greece, a straightforward and nonmoral, sensual appetite, and the "lust" of Rome, something lascivious and perhaps artificially heightened. The "reverie of the middle ages" combines (without judging between) notions of musing and daydreaming. Medieval "spiritual ambition," too, includes the suggestion of ardent aspiration with a slight implication of presumption. Can or should one be "ambitious" in the realm of spirituality? The phrase "imaginative loves" of the middle ages runs together hints of the ennobling and refining with covert indications of the self-deluding. "The return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias" (98-99) is not mere sensationalism. The debauchery and murders of Alexander VI, the Vicar of Christ who never ceased to believe in the sacraments he administered or the sanctity of his own office, would obviously be of a different order of moral complexity (or depravity) from the "animalism" of Greece. There is a continued suggestion of the contributions of rich and varied cultures but also of their limitations and the cost they impose. No wonder the eyelids of La Gioconda are a little weary.
The comparison of the Mona Lisa to "the vampire" who has been "dead many times" (99) stands out in the paragraph as an arresting, even repellent image. It offers a deliberate and calculated challenge. The complex modern mind and sensibility, feeding again and again on the past from which it draws a strange life, is not some mellow natural process of ripening. The vampire image is intended to jar against somewhat complacent views (current in the text-books of the time) that saw Western civilization and English culture as happy marriages of Hebraism and Hellenism or Anglo-Saxon freedom and Norman discipline. In fact, Pater suggests, the relation of the modern mind to the cultures it has inherited is altogether stranger and more disconcerting. The modern mind is curiously parasitic, feeding ruthlessly on dead things it has dug up.
The "deep seas" in which La Gioconda has "been a diver" and "whose fallen day" she keeps about her point to those depths of past civilizations and lost states of feeling from which treasures may be retrieved, but at the price of sadness born of the consciousness that things once living are now dead. La Gioconda's trafficking for "strange webs with Eastern merchants" suggests the alien influences and cultural cross-fertilisations that have fed the modern mind. Pater repeats that union of moral incompatibles he has already claimed for this female image. She has been the destroying Leda and St Anne, a vehicle of redemption. He follows this with his most disconcerting remark: "And all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes" (99). It is, of course, a reference to Vasari's story, already mentioned by Pater, that Leonardo kept the slight smile on La Gioconda's face by having "mimes and flute-players" (98) perform in the room in which she sat. The implications of this comment go to the heart of Pater's conception of the feminine image in "Leonardo da Vinci." Beneath all the changing religions, intellectual schemes, and political ideologies that have dominated recorded history, lies something little noticed but potent, the hidden levity of women who see all these supposedly impressive phenomena as a series of performances. It is this quietly subversive quality in the female image that most interests Pater. It is, perhaps, Leonardo's "binding-spell." One recalls that the long-standing joke Pater shared with his sisters, the inventing of sets of impossible relations, (14) was played at the expense of one of the most sacred of Victorian icons, the family. He had himself discovered and shared the hidden laughter of women.
This hidden laughter forms a significant element in the figure of Faustina in Marius the Epicurean. It is easy to relate Pater's portrayal of the empress to some of the novel's wider concerns. Clearly, she is an adjunct to a representation of Marcus Aurelius in which sympathy is gradually outweighed by criticism. With great shows of candor and understanding, Pater nonetheless chips away at the figure of the Stoic saint that Matthew Arnold had set up and that Renan had recently embellished. The reasons for Pater's growing sympathy with Christianity during the 1880s are not entirely clear, but a conversation with Mrs Humphrey Ward (1881) does suggest his sense of the sadness and complexity of life and the need for a relief that mere human effort could not promise ("You think it all plain. But I can't. There are such mysterious things. Take that saying. 'Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy-laden.' How can you explain that? There is a mystery in it--something supernatural"). (15) A letter to Mrs Ward (23 December 1885) suggests that, from the point of view of a sceptic, Pater could not see that the evidence for Christianity was weaker than that available for any other moral assumption. (16) At least Christianity was a "workable hypothesis." Whatever the inner story that such indications hint at, Pater certainly showed an impatience with secular saints like Spinoza and Marcus Aurelius who had recently been promoted as alternatives (or even superior) to the Christian religion. The gravely satirical implications of the portrait of the disciple of Spinoza in "Sebastian Van Storck" are clear enough. Those of the portrait of Marcus Aurelius in Marius the Epicurean are even clearer.
These enigmatic but palpable changes in Pater's attitudes affected his images of women. Faustina is first briefly introduced as one of the audience of her husband's discourse to the Senate on the vanity of earthly life. Because of the "early November sunset" (17) slanting into the eyes of the assembly, court officials draw purple curtains and "in the depth of those warm shadows, surrounded by her ladies, the empress Faustina was seated to listen" (203). She is no more than a silent presence, tinged with red, (18) in the "warm shadows," but the name and reputation of Faustina would have been known to educated readers, more familiar with Roman history than their modern counterparts. Pater's contemporaries might remember Gibbon's amused references to Faustina. (19) Some of them would have known the pulsating, sadistic raptures of Swinburne's "Faustine" in Poems and Ballads (1866). The empress seated silently in the warm shadows is bound to invite speculation on her attitude to her husband's sermon, a collection of the more doleful utterances from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. Pater, as narrator, gives a strong hint that we are not meant to receive Aurelius' pronouncements uncritically. Marius notices the emperor's "almost inhuman impassibility" (204) and "the ascetic pride which lurks under all Platonism." One is bound to wonder what the silent woman in the shadows is thinking of the performance she is witnessing.
The question grows more pointed in the course of Marius' subsequent visit to the palace. Pater juxtaposes the effects of Marcus Aurelius' philosophy with the rumors about his wife's behavior. The emperor is determined "that the world should be to him what the higher reason preferred to conceive it" (223). Not withstanding his gloomy reflections on transitoriness and mortality, he insists in seeing only the best in others. From his earliest childhood, "he seemed himself ... to have been always surrounded by kinsmen, friends, servants, of exceptional virtue" (223). His inflexible optimism about the members of his circle accompanies a belief in the transparency of human nature, expressed in the "doctrine of physiognomy" (218). For him, people are what they seem and every "affection of man's soul, looks out very plainly from the window of the eyes" (218). Such a belief (or deliberate flying in the face of common sense) is bad enough, but there is worse. Aurelius' pleasant manner toward his "young visitor" Marius is a "blossom of the same wisdom" (221), which makes him avoid "being exigent with men any more than with trees (it is his favourite figure) beyond their nature." In Pater's view, the ruler whom Arnold had hailed as the "especial friend and comforter of all clear-headed and scrupulous, yet pure hearted and upward striving men" (20) is self-deceiving and presumptuous. Aurelius' view of himself as a gardener, rational in his expectations about others and concerned to bring out the best in them, is a posture of complete superiority. Refusing to ask from one's associates what is "beyond their nature" (221) assumes that one understands the personalities and grasps (without sharing) the limitations of those with whom one has to deal. Pater's quotation of Arnold's most famous phrase (To see the object "as in itself it really is" ) in the course of Aurelius' sermon to the Senate, witnessed by his wife, is more than a touch of mischief. It calls in question the claim of one whom Arnold, and later Renan, had offered as the timeless representative of humanity's highest ideals. Faustina proves Aurelius' wisdom hollow. Whatever he sees in her, it is not the object as in itself it really is.
Pater delicately changes key at the end of Chapter XII of Marius the Epicurean. The failing light and gloomy words of the Emperor ("the discourse ended almost in darkness" ) give way to a color already associated with Faustina in her red shadow ("at no time had the winter roses from Carthage seemed more lustrously yellow and red" ). Marius admires "the peculiar decoration" of the walls of the room in which Faustina sits, walls colored "like rich old red leather" (217). The empress herself has her fingers "lighted up red by the glowing coals of the brazier" (222).
Pater sends out different and contradictory signals about this woman. In this second and longer glimpse of her, she is "amid all the refined intimacies of a modern house ... among her boys and girls" (222) and, seemingly, a loving wife and mother. Yet, in the eyes of the observer Marius, she is "the great paradox of the age" (222). By general consent "the most beautiful woman in the world," she is at the same time an individual who escapes definition and whose personality and physical appearance evade recollection. Marius finds "this enigmatic point in her expression, that even after seeing her many times he could never precisely recall her features in absence" (222). The "numerous representations of her in art" suggests what a meeting with her confirms, that she has "the air of one curious, restless to enter into conversation with the first comer." Yet, paradoxically, she remains silent throughout Marius' audience with her husband. The phrase "ambiguous curiosity," describing the widespread reaction to her, has itself a double meaning. Is the curiosity Faustina arouses ambiguous because she is morally dubious or because the curiosity itself is ill-defined and unfounded?
In a paragraph (222-23) that describes the rumours about Faustina that "knocked at every door and window of the imperial house," Pater puts a series of questions that undermine themselves the moment they are asked. Is it possible that the son who, we have just been told, "was, in outward appearance, his father" Aurelius, had a likeness to her husband that the empress had obtained by "shameful magic" (223), using "the blood of a murdered gladiator, his true father?" Did Faustina really carry on all the "arts of furtive love" that "the Roman poet describes" or was her reputation created and maintained by tags from Ovid, quoted by gossipmongers who, lacking invention to sustain their malice, fell back on a well-worn literary tradition of female misbehaviour? Did Faustina really murder those whose deaths seemed "the work of apoplexy or the plague"? After the poignant description of the last days of Marius' friend Flavian, death by the plague seems likely enough. In saying that the rumours about Faustina were "meant to penetrate" (223) Aurelius' ears, Pater implies that their origin lay in malice.
Faustina's mysterious personality is a standing jest at the expense of Marcus Aurelius' belief in the transparency of human nature. His unknowable wife is the most effective riposte to the emperor's belief that the affections of the soul look through the windows of the eyes. But the joke does not end there. It is essential to Marcus Aurelius' Stoic posture to see himself, and to present his character to others, as an extraordinarily forbearing man, rising above provocations that might sting lesser natures. He has "a kind of philosophical pride in the thought that no one took more good-naturedly than he the "oversights" of his neighbours" (223-24). His behavior toward his wife has become "a marvel of equity--of charity" (222).
Yet, Pater implies, the truth about the relationship of Aurelius and Faustina may be far more complicated and less flattering to the emperor than his public display of marvellous charity suggests. As Pater intimates, the scandalous rumours about Faustina do not bear close examination. When examined, they evaporate into implausible gossip. (This was a point Renan made three years earlier in Marc Aurele et le Fin du Monde Antique. (21)) Possibly Aurelius' kindness kept Faustina "by a contrasting affection from becoming what most people believed her" (224). Perhaps (and more disturbingly) the "secret of her actual blamelessness" was known to her husband who found her "a consolation, the more secure perhaps, because misknown of others." This last phrase is both odd and suggestive. It raises the possibility that the pleasure Aurelius took in his wife's love and support was all the greater because the public view of her was entirely false; that he is knowingly gaining credit with many for a saintly patience that in reality Faustina has never given him reason to practice. When Pater tells us that "the one thing quite certain" about Faustina, apart from her extraordinary beauty, is her "sweetness" to her husband, this deepens the enigma. Does her "sweetness" extend to allowing Aurelius the position of unearned moral superiority toward her he seems to need? As much as Leonardo's smiling woman, the silences and sweetness of Faustina are inseparable from a faintly disconcerting comic vision. It would be curious if (as seems likely) she far surpasses the tolerance and understanding on which her husband congratulates himself. Perhaps she, not he, is the marvel of charity.
Marguerite of Navarre, as presented in the section of Gaston de Latour unpublished in Pater's lifetime, reflects changes in the image of women as radical as those that distinguish Faustina from Leonardo's "master-spell." Again, the clue to the change lies in controversy and the war of ideas. As Gerald Monsman points out, Pater's conception of Gaston de Latour "evolved to include a new note of urgency in response to Wilde's critical essays" (22) and to Dorian Gray. Pater even cancelled a holiday a month after the first appearance of Wilde's novel (July 1890) in order to finish his own.
Two recent articles have touched on the somewhat neglected figure of Marguerite de Valois in Gaston de Latour. Billie Andrew Inman explores the personal animosity she feels Pater displays toward Marguerite. (23) Inman attributes this to Pater's dislike of "Rachilde" (Marguerite Emery), the author of Monsieur Venus (1884), a novel in which a depraved woman destroys a beautiful young man. Interesting as the discovery of this possible source is, perhaps inevitably it shifts attention away from Pater's wider intellectual concerns embodied in Marguerite de Valois. Gerald Monsman examines the relationship and contrasts between Pater's and Wilde's aestheticism in terms of the psychology of love laid down by Plato in Phaedrus. (24) He identifies Marguerite as an example of sensual as opposed to spiritual love. As with Inman, however, the specific nature of the topic of the Platonic Eros in Wilde and Pater necessarily restricts the discussion of Marguerite. It may, perhaps, be worth noticing some of the wider intellectual and moral concerns Pater explored in this figure.
Two chapters of Gaston de Latour ("The Lower Pantheism," which appeared as "Giordano Bruno" [Fortnightly Review, August 1889] and "An Empty House," published in Monsman's edition,  provide an explanation of Pater's concern and a context for his representation of Queen Marguerite. The discussion of Bruno's philosophy concentrates on its antinomianism: "In proportion as man raised himself to the ampler survey of the divine work around him, just in that proportion would the very notion of evil disappear. "There were no weeds, no 'tares,' in the endless field" (82). Inherent in Bruno's "lower pantheism" is the notion that one object or experience is as "good" as another: "Was there any place left for imperfection, moral or otherwise, in a world wherein the minutest atom, the highest thought, could not escape from God's presence." Of course, this portrait of Bruno articulates Pater's concern about the place of morality in his own post-evolutionary late-nineteenth-century world. Pater had come to fear the loss of a sense of meaning, quality, and significance in the minds of some of his contemporaries. Dangerous in itself, it was worse because it threatened to appropriate and fatally distort the doctrines he had offered in The Renaissance. Chapter VIII of Gaston de Latour ("An Empty House") make the specific object of his fears clearer. Pater's quoting of Wilde's well-known aphorism "Live up to your blue china" as the chapter's original epigraph leaves no doubt as to the object of his criticism. The moral relativism prevailing in Gaston's Paris (and, as Pater feared, rearing its head in his own world) finds one of its expressions in the art collection of Gaston's friend Jasmin. This is an accumulation of "all select things whatsoever, all that would really pass with the select few as in any sense productions of fine art" (86). Secluded "from the crude world outside," the aesthete may enjoy a banquet of exquisite sensations in "elaborately balanced harmonies" (87). However, Pater suggests, such aestheticism (unlike his own) attempts to enjoy the products of art without grasping its moral and spiritual contexts and relationships: "It was not quite true that all really beautiful things went well together" (87). The ancient Greek sculptures in Jasmin's collection cannot be "effectively associated" (87) with the "tricky indoor splendours" of the age of the Valois. Such a promiscuous mingling of objects is the sign of an "almost exclusive preoccupation with things" that is always a danger in the "sincere care for art." It has "something of that disproportion of mind which is always akin to mental disease" (88). Moreover this "novel mode of receiving ... the visible aspects of life" (88) seeks to justify itself by a "theory" about living, an "intellectual scheme" whose practical consequences one might not "precisely ascertain at present" (88) but "would inevitably be led to in due course." The "intellectual aristocracy" who embraced such a theory and who differed from the common people in "taste and fashion" might come to differ from them in "less innocent ways."
There is no mistaking the seriousness and cogency of Pater's concern with what he felt was a parasitic distortion of his own thought. It is this concern that helps to shape the female image of the smiling woman presented in the figure of Marguerite of Navarre. She is introduced in Chapter IX of Gaston de Latour (most unusually for Pater) with a ribald reference to the open way in which she pursues the men she desires. Gaston sees her "well-known" (92) carriage in the moonlight and recognizes the Queen making her way to Jasmin's home "to solicit in person the favours of that reluctant youth" (93). She does not trouble to disguise her actions and "is used to go unmasked on the very boldest errands" (92). At the outset, Pater places the Queen among the "many classic revivals of the hour"--the various rebirths of ancient paganism. She recalls the "magnificent ancient empresses" Suetonius and other Roman historians described. As well as Messalina, Agrippina or Poppaea, she is a "new and perhaps lovelier Faustine" (92), a mover of armies, "in a dubious sense, Mother of the army."
There are two points worth noting here. The "challenge to make free trial, a free realisation of the doctrine of 'indifference,' of moral indifference" (93) implicit in Bruno's philosophy or Jasmin's aestheticism, involves a revival of past models of human behavior. Whatever this movement entails, in Gaston's time or Pater's own, it is not the discovery of a "finer susceptibility, or a newer mode of thought" able (as Wilde had promised in "The Critic as Artist" [which appeared in July-September 1890 before being published with revisions in Intentions 1891]) to transform acts of passion that would be ignoble with the uneducated "or with the shameful vile." (25) Rather, the doctrine of moral indifference represents a return of the human spirit back upon itself, a reliving of bygone experiences and ancient excesses, an embracing of earlier and less-developed types of consciousness, like those of the "magnificent ancient empresses." Second, Pater has simplified the figure of Faustina, discarding the ambiguities and nuances he had offered in Marius the Epicurean and bringing her within measurable distance of Swinburne's version. It is quite clear that he makes this alteration, as he had presented the earlier portrait, for polemical reasons and with his eye on ideas he wished to counter.
Pater is less interested in Marguerite's sexual idiosyncrasies than in the way in which her temperament and attitudes embody abuse of power in erotic terms. For him, the exercise of power in the sexual sphere is a crucial subject. Understanding it throws light on otherwise inexplicable personalities and behavior: "How many enigmas on the stage of human life are really covered by recondite relationships of what we may call erotic humility to erotic pride" (101). The exercise of power is often the determining factor in relationships, irrespective of gender or sexual preference. "Anteros," unkindly or cruel love, is a pervasive malady always capable of distorting the affective life. For Pater, Blake's "The Clod and the Pebble," contrasting unselfish and selfish love, makes the vital distinction in erotic relations, going to the root of the whole matter (100).
What Pater condemns is not the particular forms of eros or the details of their physical expression, but the susceptibility of human nature to "carnal consuming, wolfish love" (101). This is a malaise in which desire for power seizes control of the sexual or affective appetites in what is ultimately a will to destroy in the stronger partner in a game in which the weaker is the inevitable victim, rather than any kind of mutually satisfying bond. (One wonders if Pater's friend Lionel Johnson, who attacked Wilde for this very destructiveness in "To the Destroyer of a Soul" (1891) colored Pater's attitude both to Wilde and moral relativism at this time).
The long paragraph (101) in which Pater analyzes this erotic malformation is worth attention. He first characterizes the "age of the Valois" as one in which "people of an extraordinary force of will" were "ready to assert to the utmost" their personalities and emotions. They are all the freer to do so because philosophies, like that of Bruno, and related aestheticism, like that of Jasmin, can be made to endorse moral indifferentism. Although there are substantial differences between the historical furniture of Pater's sixteenth century world and his own, in Gaston de Latour as much as in Marius the Epicurean, he is examining contemporary issues. For the "philosophy of Bruno" we may read the "effects of nineteenth-century evolutionary theory." What is suggested by both is a climate in which objective moral standards and the sense of spiritual significance have disintegrated, leaving the field free for "continual self-presentation" (101). Self-expression and "the desire of physical, of carnal beauty" become a "profane and cruel religion." Unlike the aesthetic instinct described in "The Child in the House" that had been inherent from the earliest age and ready to attach itself to the commonest objects, this love of beauty is the possession of a narrow coterie or self-constituted elite. "Wasteful, despotic and strangely exclusive" (101), it exhausts rather than fulfils its adherents. Interestingly, Pater offers several possible explanations for the phenomenon. It may be a "natural and normal condition of the human mind at all times" or, alternatively, the "artificial creation" of a fanciful art operating in lives that have lost ordinary motives. Gradually, however, he offers darker hypotheses. This new culture may have come from Italy (in a startlingly repellent image) like an infection "wrapped up in costly furniture and the like." Finally, there is the possibility that it has "escaped from the grave of antiquity" and represents types of "exotic sin," which Rome in its decadence learned from even older civilizations, "sins like those of Tyre and Sidon." By offering these various but increasingly grave explanations to a "student of moral ideas, of historic fact" who is supposed to be "shocked or merely curious" (101), Pater has prepared the ground for an acceptance of sinister possibilities. Pater takes care to maintain detachment, raising theories and suggestions while committing himself and his reader to none of them. The effect is to give the suggestion of downright evil more weight than it would have had if presented directly in a piece of strenuous moral denunciation where it might have been dismissed as exaggeration. The nature of this evil, connected to the "sins of Tyre and Sidon," is itself interesting. Babylon would have seemed a more obvious and better-known type of ancient corruption. The best known example of the "sins of Tyre and Sidon" Pater's readers might have known would have been I Kings 21, where twisted love of power, greed, and destructiveness are displayed rather than primarily sexual depravity.
Marguerite of Navarre embodies a lust that "will not be content with anything less than consumption, the destruction of its object" as a means to gain assurance of its own sovereignty. She is a prime instance of the "erotic pride" that delights in possessing "the virginal, the really white flowers of both sexes" (102). Curiously, the description of Marguerite's "moral indifference" and predatory eroticism echoes and perhaps revalues passages from Pater's earlier writings. The new art (and accompanying mentality) of Valois France marries the spirit of Italy with that of Durer's "Melancholia," exercized "by no means quite pleasurably" by a "bewildering variety of thoughts." This is no longer the hopeful Durer of Conrad Celtes' poem in "Duke Carl of Rosemold" of a few years earlier. As we have seen, Marguerite is a Faustina darker than the empress of Marius the Epicurean. The "Amor" Marguerite embodies "enthroned in the land of oblivion," of forgetfulness of all beside itself (101), recalls Abelard's spirit in The Renaissance "in such dreamy tranquillity" living "in a world of something like shadows." Yet there is a difference between the "languid sweetness" and "subtle skill in dividing the elements of human passion" and Marguerite's science of love. The Queen of Navarre's doctrine bemuses Gaston like the "'streams and pathways" (103) in the background of La Gioconda. Yet this smiling woman, unlike Leonardo's subject, does not announce a new age or a new mode of feeling. Her "love for love's sake as a doctrine and a discipline," unlike Abelard's, does not fructify in literature or art. In spite of all Marguerite's amorous sophistication, in her "humanely learned" knowledge of the "remotest delicacies of the human form" she is "wolfish" (101), and her "imageries, colour, music, words" (102) are like "Circe's enchanted island" (103) where she turns her human victims into swine.
For Pater, the portraits of Marguerite and of those attitudes in his own time that she is intended to point at, are unusually harsh. Earlier controversial engagements with Arnold or Renan had been muted, indirect, and circumspect. Here, he attacks Wilde directly and forcefully. It is likely that the strange, bejewelled, and grotesque shrine where "usually upon an alter with unbleached funeral wax lights" (105) Marguerite keeps the embalmed head of one of her lovers, Jacques La Mole, is intended to recall Wilde's Salome. In 1890 "[Wilde] announced he would write about Salome," (26) making no secret of the fact. If, as is probable, Pater heard of this, then Marguerite in this passage, written toward the end of 1890 or later, is his comment. Wilde's "[b]iblical image of the unnatural" is robbed of its glamor as Marguerite retains, like a piece of eccentric furniture, her lover's "ugly brown face--so repulsive now" (105).
An investigation of Pater's images of smiling women with their hidden knowledge throws light on a topic of importance in any estimate of his work. Much recent criticism has found Pater's reticence and bland politeness a challenge to investigate the pathology of his writing--to pluck out the heart of his mystery by various kinds of psychological investigation (or speculation) concerning the covert tensions, fears, or guilt that, supposedly, formed his work. Interesting as these explorations may de, they possibly neglect the point that Pater's writing was a public act, undertaken to persuade, to advocate certain ideas, and to criticize others. The views of women represented in the major figures of La Gioconda, Faustina, and Marguerite do not easily suggest a range of idiosyncratic sexual obsessions. They are more readily related to certain changing controversial preoccupations. These women lend themselves to Pater for such a purpose since (whatever the variety of his own sexuality) he saw female nature as both interesting and potent. In their different ways, La Gioconda, Faustina, and Marguerite are silent and smiling assertions, for good or ill, of perceptions and values at odds with the world around them. Pater employs their subversive potentialities, while recognizing that their power is not of one kind or used to one end.
University of Hull, Emeritus
(1) Frederick Wedmore, Memories (London, 1912), pp. 163-64, qtd. in Gerald Monsman, Walter Pater (Boston: Twayne, 1977), p. 44.
(2) Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, ed. Donald L. Hill (U of California P, 1980), p. 78. Subsequent references in parentheses are to this edition.
(3) Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists (1568; tr. George Bull, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), I, p. 232.
(4) John Ruskin, The Eagle's Nest, Lecture II (1872, rpt. John Ruskin: Selected Writings, 1964; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), p. 187.
(5) Ruskin, The Eagles Nest, Lecture V, rpt. John Ruskin: Selected Writings, p. 204.
(6) Mrs Pattison, Unsigned Review, Westminster Review, April 1873, rpt. Walter Pater: The Critical Heritage, ed. R.M Seiler, (London: Routledge, 1980), p. 72.
(7) Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism, First Series (1865; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1910), p. 161.
(8) Vasari, Lives of the Artists, I, p. 254.
(9) Vasari, Lives of the Artists, I, p. 259.
(10) This was apparently the drawing from which Macmillan, at Pater's request, had an engraving made to use as a frontispiece in the Second Edition of The Renaissance. Letters of Walter Pater, ed. Lawrence Evans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 21-23.
(11) Walter Pater, "Raphael" (1892; rpt. The Works of Walter Pater, London: Macmillan, 1900-1901), VIII, p. 38.
(12) The Works of Walter Pater, I, p. 121.
(13) The Works of Walter Pater, IV, p. 122. Subsequent references in parentheses are to this edition.
(14) A.C Benson, Walter Pater (1906; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1921), pp. 189-90.
(15) R.M.Seiler, Walter Pater: A Life Remembered (U of Calgary P, 1987), p. 30.
(16) Letters of Walter Pater, pp. 64-65.
(17) The Works of Walter Pater, II, p. 203. Subsequent references in parentheses to Marius the Epicurean are to this volume.
(18) There is an ambiguity in the color red here associated with Faustina. It might suggest shed blood, a hint corroborated later by the brief mention of the empress at the arena in the chapter entitled "Manly Amusement." Red might also suggest human warmth, contrasted with Marcus Aurelius's impassibility, a view supported by the earlier description discussed here.
(19) Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (1776-88; rpt. London: Folio Society, 1983), I, p. 97.
(20) Arnold, Essays in Criticism, First Series, p. 238.
(21) Ernest Renan, Oeuvres Completes, ed. Henriette Psichari (Paris: Caiman Levy, 1947-1961), 5, p. 1040.
(22) Walter Pater, Gaston de Latour The Revised Text, ed. Gerald Monsman (Greensboro: ELT Press, 1995), XL. Subsequent references in parentheses are to this edition.
(23) Billie Andrew Inman, "John 'Dorian' Gray and the theme of subservient love in Pater's works of the 1890's," Comparative Criticism: An Annual Journal, No. 17 (Cambridge UP, 1995), pp. 85-107.
(24) Gerald Monsman, "The Platonic Eros of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde: 'Love's Reflected Image' in the 1890's," English Literature in Transition 45:1 (2002), pp. 26-45.
(25) Oscar Wilde, (1891; rpt. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde [Glasgow: Harper Collins, 1994]), p. 1154.
(26) Richard Ellman, Oscar Wilde (1987; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988), p. 32.
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|Title Annotation:||Walter Pater|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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