John Coates, The Rhetorical Use of Provocation as a Means of Persuasion in the Writings of Walter Pater (1839–1894), English Essayist and Cultural Critic. Pater as a Controversialist
John Coates, The Rhetorical Use of Provocation as a Means of Persuasion in the Writings of Walter Pater (1839-1894), English Essayist and Cultural Critic. Pater as a Controversialist. With a Foreword by Sheridan Gilley, Lampeter, The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011, 444 p. ISBN 978-0773415041
1Coates presents the convincing image of Walter Pater as a controversialist in a collection of 11 chapters—each focusing on a specific essay or book—which develop various aspects of his writings, from art and literary criticism to the study of myths and fiction. His method is inspired from intertextuality—an approach which was used by Billie Inman with great mastery—, here fulfilling the new aim of portraying Pater as a talented polemicist who keeps challenging conventional ideas and intellectual trends. The structure of the book may at first puzzle the reader since, as Coates is drawing his material from various articles he wrote from the 1980s, the same topics come up in several chapters. For example, Pater’s conception of style is first analysed in chapter 4 in reference to ‘Charles Lamb’, and then in chapters 9 and 10 which both deal with the essay on ‘Style’. Such a structure however encourages the reader to examine and cross-examine Pater’s thought from different angles, a process which he finds more and more pleasurable as he peruses the book and constructs his own portrait of the writer. Coates also assesses various critical essays published in recent years, thus confronting his ideas, in a way reminiscent of Pater, to those of recent prominent scholars such as Brake, Connor, Conlon, Dellamora, Donoghue, Fletcher, Inman, Iser, Knoepfmacher, McGrath, Monsman, Shuter and many more. Emulating Pater, Coates attempts to give a formula of his genius, emphasizing his art of nuance, his diplomacy, his cleverness and, most of all, his irony—something that is not often examined in such detail—, which he presents as a very efficient rhetorical device used by the writer to question theories, metaphysical systems and intellectual categories. Finally, all the threads delicately spun in the various chapters weave themselves into a picture of fin de siècle culture, characterized by the rise of historicism and the rediscovery of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. Inspired by Ruskin and Swinburne, and yet challenging their vision, Pater contributed to a new apprehension of the relation between ethics and aesthetics on the one hand, and religion and paganism on the other hand. He questioned E. B. Tylor’s anthropology and drew on the writings of Heine, Mérimée and Hawthorne in order to elaborate a complex and subtle vision of paganism interacting with Christianity. Pater’s own reflection on the Oxford Movement and, in particular, on Newman’s principles of faith, testifies to the Victorian Age’s often troubled relation to religion. As the exponent of new, unconventional ideas contributing to a new celebration of life and beauty, Pater is finally portrayed by Coates as a prominent leader in the Aesthetic movement.
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Martine Lambert-Charbonnier, « John Coates, The Rhetorical Use of Provocation as a Means of Persuasion in the Writings of Walter Pater (1839–1894), English Essayist and Cultural Critic. Pater as a Controversialist », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 79 Printemps | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2014, consulté le 25 mars 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/1310Haut de page
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