Navigation – Plan du site
Neo-paganism: Late Victorian Pagan revivals

Late-Victorian Paganism: the case of the Pagan Review

Le cas de la Pagan Review
Bénédicte Coste

Résumés

Cet article traite de l’unique numéro de la Pagan Review paru en Grande-Bretagne en 1892 sous la seule plume de William Sharp, poète, critique littéraire et romancier qui devait par ailleurs rencontrer le succès sous le pseudonyme de Fiona MacLeod dès 1894. Rédigé à une époque de profonde réflexion personnelle par Sharp, la Pagan Review porte également l’empreinte du remaniement religieux et littéraire de la fin du siècle et témoigne de la recherche de l’expression littéraire d’une subjectivité revendiquant un certain syncrétisme religieux, l’égalité des sexes et le cosmopolitisme culturel.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

Neo-paganisms

  • 1 Jackson’s examples include Grant Allen’s 1894 ‘New Hedonism’, H. D. Traill’s ‘New Fiction’, the ‘Ne (...)
  • 2 Throughout the whole article, page references without a name will come from The Pagan Review edited (...)

1The Pagan Review, written and edited by William Sharp, was part of the ‘new’ mania of the 1890s (Jackson 19–20).1 With its single issue in August 1892, it was meant to promote the ‘new paganism’ described as ‘a potent leaven in the yeast of the “younger generation”’, or ‘les jeunes’ (2).2 But what was that new paganism? Was it only a fad among other novelties or ‘news’ of the day, or was it the symptom of a larger shift in forms and expressions of belief? Was it a means of doing away with traditions, or the ‘new inwardness to withdraw from life the approved veils of convention’ (2) that Sharp called for in his ‘Foreword’? It certainly was linked to a willingness to end gender discrimination and live a freer life resonating throughout the 64 pages of the Pagan Review.

  • 3 Sharp wrote biographies of Shelley, Heine, and Browning for the Great Writers series, while contrib (...)

2Retrospectively, the Pagan Review may appear as a pastiche of existing periodicals, whether linked with Aestheticism and other avant-garde literary or artistic movements, such as the Century Guild Hobby Horse. Its single issue was penned down by a writer noted for the various pseudonyms he used for it as well as for other literary enterprises, the most famous of which being Fiona MacLeod who made her appearance in 1894 with Pharais. William Sharp (1855–1905), already engaged in sustained journalistic and editorial activity,3 the author of poems and essays, published romances under the pen name of Fiona MacLeod and kept the deception for eleven years. The Pagan Review can be considered as a galop d’essai in multiple identities and diversity of literary genres that came to characterise his production.

3Some of the Review’s first readers took it quite seriously. The Saturday Review disparaged its pretensions to épater le bourgeois: ‘Les jeunes should not make it their chief aim to shock Mrs Grundy’ (Denisoff and Kooistra 2010), a reference to the Review’s cover bearing the motto ‘Sic transit gloria Grundy’, but also to its contents.

4The writing of the Pagan Review was deemed poor, suffering from a regrettable confusion between painting and poetry techniques: ‘Youth, which has usually nothing to say, is justly anxious to say it well. But the art of writing well is not the trick of laying on adjectives with a palette-knife. This is an illusion which most writers have to outgrow.’ (Denisoff and Kooistra, 2010)

5Finally, the reviewer took the Pagan Review to task for its meagre knowledge of paganism and advised contributors to read the veritable pagans:

There can be no better cure for the errors of Neo-paganism than a study of the old pagans, Homer, Sophocles, Virgil. They, not M. Paul Verlaine, not even Mr. George Meredith, not even Beaudelaire (as the Pagan Review calls that author, who himself smote the Neo-Pagans in a memorable essay) are the guides to follow. (Denisoff and Kooistra, 2010)

  • 4 (OED 2014). The OED also defines a pagan as: ‘A follower of a pantheistic or nature-worshipping rel (...)

6The Review had engaged in mock-paganism and failed. Still, if we take the OED’s definition of a pagan as ‘A person not subscribing to any major or recognized religion, esp. the dominant religion of a particular society; spec. a heathen, a non-Christian, esp. considered as savage, uncivilized, etc’,4 the Pagan Review’s open refusal to accept traditional values and its emphasis on exotic locations and unconventional deeds may partly correspond to that definition.

  • 5 Twelve volumes followed over the next 25 years.

7Could the Pagan Review illustrate nineteenth-century ‘neo-paganism’? As T. M. Luhrmann notes, ‘neo-paganism’ had begun to be brought to the attention of the general public at the turn of the 1890s with the publication of J. Frazer’s study in magic and religion The Golden Bough (Luhrmann 218).5 As a religious phenomenon encompassing various manifestations, it had been fostered in part by the demise of religious authority regardless of confessional affiliation, the development of scientific discourses, and by other forms of worship which the Empire had brought the British population into contact with. Davy also notes that nineteenth-century neo-paganism occurred in a context steeped in the vicissitudes of Christianity and that it translated as a will to go back to fantasised primeval times: ‘It is the original nature religion, but newly imagined after the embracing of reason; it is a new religion following urbanization and the repression of the Victorian era’ (Davy 90-91). The Romantic desire to reconnect with and rediscover nature materialised in notable trends in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and took multifarious forms, whether religious, cultural and literary.

  • 6 ‘tout, jusqu’à ce paganisme mutilé, qui, ne pouvant rendre à la vie les anciennes lois morales, ess (...)
  • 7 ‘Non, il est trop tard pour se faire païen du fond du cœur, il est trop tard de deux mille ans’ (Et (...)
  • 8 Swinburne ‘fait table rase dans son âme de toute espèce de foi et de doctrine morale pour la livrer (...)

8For J. M. Greer, the word ‘neo-paganism’ dates back to the 1890s, when it was used by literary critics such as F. W. Barry (1891) to describe writers influenced by Celtic and ancient Greek sources rather than Christian ones (Greer 325). Literary neo-paganism included a revival of pagan sources and themes, which, as B. J. Davy suggests, can be traced back as far as the German Romantics, such as Friedrich Schlegel and his 1799 novel Lucinde which influenced the English Romantics Shelley and Keats and the post-Romantics Swinburne and Yeats (Davy 90). In an 1867 review of Swinburne’s and Keats’s poetry, Louis Etienne noted the antinominian characteristic of modern paganism6 and located its belatedness within a Christian context.7 Modern paganism could only exist within Christianity and as its aftermath, a paradox that Swinburne was exploring outrageously.8

  • 9 On the different literary uses of mythography by the Victorians see Margot K. Louis.

9Significantly 1867 was also the year when Walter Pater published his influential essay ‘Winckelmann’ with its definition of paganism as a ‘sentiment’ ‘which existed before the Greek religion, and has lingered far onward into the Christian world, ineradicable, like some persistent growth, because its seed is an element of the very soil of which it grows’ (Pater 1988, 129). For Pater, the ‘pagan sentiment measures the sadness with which the human mind is filled, whenever its thoughts wander far from what is here, and now’ (Pater 1988, 129). It articulates human finitude and is therefore necessarily doomed to persist; it can be embedded in rituals or it can appear as more developed forms of religion and worship. ‘Such pagan worship, in spite of local variations, essentially one, is an element in all religions. It is the anodyne which the religious principle, like one administering opiates to the incurable, has added to the law which makes life sombre for the vast majority of mankind’ (Pater 1988, 130). Pater firmly located paganism within the individual and collective psyche where it functioned as a Derridean pharmakon—both poison and cure (Derrida 162–63). Cults and religions were but its variable and relative expression. Christianity was no exception and Pater explored the links between paganism and Christianity throughout his writings, be they studies or portraits, to show the persistence of man’s pagan substratum. Mythology was a fertile soil in that respect and Pater was not the only Victorian writer to show its relevance and value for exploring man’s modern condition.9 However he was careful to note that there could be no genuine revival of paganism—provided it had existed as such—but only revivals within specific contexts, i.e. ‘neo-paganisms’. Victorian neo-paganism was intrinsically derivative; the more it sought to reclaim a return to primeval times, the more it acknowledged the existence of Christianity. It was also characterized by a marked literary dimension.

10Quite perceptively, in The Victorian Age in Literature the Catholic G. K. Chesterton ascribed the fin-de-siècle pagan revival to the influence of aestheticism and more especially to that of Pater:

In this sense Pater may well stand for a substantial summary of the æsthetes, apart from the purely poetical merits of men like Rossetti and Swinburne. . . These people wanted to see Paganism through Christianity: because it involved the incidental amusement of seeing through Christianity itself. (Chesterton 71)

11As Chesterton notes, Victorian (neo-)paganism was used to undermine the authority of Christianity, but also because that authority had already been undermined in the preceding decades through Higher German Criticism as well as through scientific discoveries including Darwin’s theory of evolution. Whether genuine or feigned, late-nineteenth-century paganism occurred within a larger context involving scientific discourses, as well as multiple and increasingly diversified forms of religion. This is the context within which the Pagan Review made its appearance.

Contextualising the Pagan Review

  • 10 Elizabeth Sharp published books on art and music history. She translated Heine and edited Women Poe (...)
  • 11 The Pagan Review asked would-be subscribers or contributors to send all correspondence to ‘Mr. W. H (...)
  • 12 The Sin Eater (1895) was published by Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, a firm established to publish (...)
  • 13 The secret was revealed in a letter that he wrote to his friends, and which was published posthumou (...)

12A Scotsman, William Sharp had settled in London in 1878, where he was introduced to Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1881. He published in 1882 Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Record and a Study, one of the first biographies of the poet-painter, commissioned by Macmillan’s, as well as Pictorialism in Verse, and his first volume of poetry, The Human Inheritance. In the early 1880s he made the acquaintance of Swinburne, Morris, Pater, Browning, Meredith, W. Bell Scott, Ford Madox Brown, and Holman Hunt. In 1883 he was appointed London art critic of the Glasgow Herald and then, art critic for the Art Journal. In 1890 he travelled through Europe and stayed in Rome from December 1890 to March 1891, before settling with his wife Elizabeth10 in Sussex in 1892.11 There he completed and edited the Pagan Review. An advocate of the Scottish Celtic revival, he headed the Evergreen circle with Patrick Geddes while publishing two novels as Fiona MacLeod.12 When he died in 1905 he had written and edited almost forty books as W. Sharp, and more than ten as Fiona MacLeod. As is already apparent albeit on a smaller scale in the Pagan Review where he adopted the pen name of Mr W. H. Brooks, Sharp could assume different authorial identities and maintain them as such, going as far as to contribute an entry for Fiona MacLeod in Who’s Who.13

  • 14 He was to publish ‘La Jeune Belgique’ (Sharp 1893, 416-36).
  • 15 Léon Vanier (1847-1896) was a publisher who mainly published Symbolist and Decadent poets.

13Before embracing the Celtic cause, Sharp had travelled to Paris and knew the French and Belgian literary scene.14 In a letter dated 23 April 1892, he gave a Shelleyan description of Paris and mentioned having met Verlaine, visited Léon Vanier’s bookshop15 and seen ‘les jeunes’ ‘décadents, symbolistes’ (E. Sharp 316). That letter was sent to the Janviers, addressed to as ‘dear fellows Pagans’. On returning to Britain, Sharp planned out ‘the scheme of a new quarterly that was “to be the expression of a keen pagan delight in nature”’ (E. Sharp 320).

  • 16 ‘As he had no contributors, for he realised he would have to attract them, he himself wrote the who (...)

14According to Elizabeth Sharp quoting from her husband’s diary, Sharp started writing some contributions as early as June 1892. Gifted with a quick pen, he wrote ‘The Rape of the Sabines’ on 2 June, intending to publish it in the review he then wanted to call the ‘White Review’ (E. Sharp 320). On 3 June 1892 Sharp worked on ‘The Pagans’ and decided to attribute the ‘White Review’ to ‘Charles Verlayne’ (E. Sharp  321). On 4 June, he completed ‘The Pagans’, worked on ‘The Oread’, which was finished on 5 June. A trip to Loch Goil may have halted his progress but in August the Sharps settled near Rudgwick in Phenice Crofts, a cottage they occupied for two years. Sharp decided to write the whole of the first issue.16 According to his spouse, the Pagan Review was the result of a happy moment in Sharp’s life:

As the Foreword gives an idea, not only of the Editor’s project, but also of his mental attitude at that moment—a sheer revelling in the beauty of objective life and nature, while he rode for a brief time in the crest of the wave of health and exuberant spirits that had come to Italy after his long illness and convalescence. (E. Sharp 323)

15Likewise, associating paganism and life experienced to the full, the editorial proclaimed: ‘It is Life that we preach, if perforce we must be taken as preachers at all; Life to the full, in all its manifestations, in its heights and depths, precious to the uttermost moment’ (4). E. Sharp records that the one-shilling review ‘was well subscribed for, and many letters came to the Editor and his secretary (myself) that were a source of interest and amusement’ (E. Sharp 329). Clearly a readership existed for the Review despite its original ‘Foreword’ where the editor had stated his ‘aim at thorough-going unpopularity’ while also acknowledging the need and the difficulties to build up a readership (1). However, Sharp soon realised he had set himself too hard a task:

The Editor … swiftly realised that there could be no continuance of the Review. Not only could he not repeat such a tour de force, and he realised that for several numbers he would have to provide the larger portion of the material—but the one number had served its purpose, as far as he was concerned, for by means of it he had exhausted a transition phase that had passed to give way to the expression of his more permanent self. (E. Sharp 329)

16The ‘more permanent self’ materialised in the creation of Fiona MacLeod but the 1892 venture should not be categorised as merely therapeutic or preparatory. The Pagan Review is also a good index of the diversity of expression of late-nineteenth-century forms of paganism and sheds an interesting light on its multi-faceted aspects.

Reading the Pagan Review

17The Pagan Review published short texts in prose and poetry and was presented as ‘frankly pagan: pagan in sentiment, pagan in convictions, pagan in outlook’ (1). Paganism was defined as the condition of the ‘younger generation’ (1). Dismissing philosophical labels and appellations such as ‘the “new paganism,” the “modern epicureanism,” . . . as more or less misleading’, the editor argued that paganism was the expression of a shift: ‘the religion of our forefathers has not only ceased for us personally, but is no longer in any vital and general sense a sovereign power in the realm’ (2).

18Paganism means that one has ceased to give unconditional approbation to established forms of religion, and that a ‘new epoch . . . is about to be inaugurated . . . indeed, in many respects, [has] already begun’ (2). The new condition of mankind can therefore be defined as the prominence of ‘Human Economy’, i.e. an economy predicated on one’s self- fashioning and personal management, which in turn entails that the old duel between man and woman is about to be replaced by ‘a frank recognition of copartnery’ (2). As the Saturday Review was swift in noticing, gender equality loomed large in the editor’s definition of paganism. Modern pagans refused older forms of bondage so as to embrace a ‘new-rejoicing humanity’ (2). Marriage was not to be abolished but must be renewed and ‘just inter-relations’ had to be established on the recognition of ‘the sacredness of the individual’ (2). Most of the texts of the Pagan Review emphasize individual (mainly heterosexual) desires and the need to build up the ‘copartnery’ advocated here.

  • 17 La Croix de Berny is as an epistolary novel written by T. Gautier, Jules Sandeau, Mme de Girardin a (...)

19How does such a new human economy translate in a literary periodical? The Pagan Review presented itself as a ‘purely literary, not a philosophical, partisan, or propagandist periodical’ (3), eschewing traditional forms of political commitment. If literature was seen as a privileged means of achieving that new condition, not all literature qualified for the task. Sharp’s periodical had to be based on a ‘new presentment of things’—a Pateresque expression—, instead of focusing on generic change and evolution. The Pagan Review aimed at giving ‘artistic expression to the artistic “inwardness” of the new paganism’ (3) and even went as far as to accept the ‘rallying cry, “Art for Art’s Sake”’ (3). But more importantly, it was to be ‘a mouthpiece . . . of the younger generation, of the new pagan sentiment rather of the younger generation.’ (3) The rising, untrammelled individualistic generation would therefore find in the Review ‘a free exposition of the myriad aspects of life’ along with a willingness to shock readers: ‘The pass-word of the new paganism is ours: Sic transit Gloria Grundy’ (3). In literary matters, the human economy needed to discard the past and advocate the prevalence of a ‘literature dominated by the various forces of emotion’ (3). Of such a fare, ‘Tess of the Durbervilles’ [sic] was an example. As for the beneficial effect of such literature, the editor quoted Edgar de Meilhan alias Théophile Gautier,17 ‘which I (“I” standing for editor, and associates, and pagans in general) now quote for the delectation of all readers, adversely minded or generously inclined, or dubious as to our real intent—with blithe hopes that they may be the happier therefor [sic]’ (4).

  • 18 For instance, one finds ‘a white magnolia, whose white blooms gleamed in the twilight like ivory di (...)

20The first text, ‘The Black Madonna’ by W. S. Fanshawe, is the story of a sacrificial cult in Africa. Like all texts of the Review, it extensively relies on and mixes the language of the Bible, especially in dialogues, and that of aestheticism in descriptions. Sharp also takes his cue from the nascent Decadent literature assimilating nature to artifice.18

  • 19 ‘Make me unto thyself, for I love you!’ (14)

21‘The Black Madonna’ opens on a scene of sacrifice to the ‘mighty Mother’ featuring priests and a ‘multitude’. Presented and invoked as a life-giver and a ‘slayer’, the Mother is embodied in a ‘carven figure’ from which ‘cometh a hollow voice sombre as the reverberations of thunder among barren hills’ (8). ‘Bihr, the warrior-chief’ of the tribe (9) remains after the sacrifice and invokes the statue until it appears to affirm: ‘I am she whom thou worshippest’ (10). The Mother encompasses both genders and summarises the history of polytheism and monotheism. She is ‘Astaroth of old. . . the mother of God. . . the sister of the Christ. . . the bride of the Prophet’ (11), but also ‘the Prophet’, ‘the Christ, the Son of God’, and ‘the Lord thy God’ (12). Her body encapsulates all elements of anthropological otherness: ‘tall, and of a lithe and noble body . . . her skin is dark, yet not of the blackness of the south . . . her eyes, large as those of the desert-antelope’ (10). As Bihr is to become her ‘High Priest’ (12), he is granted the vision of ‘the goddess, glorious in her beauty, that is as of the night’ (13). He vainly confesses his love for her and asks her to become like her.19

22After five more victims are slain, comes ‘a man’ ‘crested with an ostrich-plume bound by a heavy circlet of gold, with a tiger-skin about his shoulders, and with a great spear in his hand’ (16), a figure clearly indebted to Aestheticism’s visual and literary depictions of Dionysus, including Pater’s (Pater 1876). This time Bihr uses a ‘loud triumphant voice’ to claim the Black Madonna as his ‘Bride’ and captures her before having what can only be described as violent intercourse in ‘the darkness of the ruins’ where ‘in the hunger of his desire she sinks as one who drowns’ (17). The next morning which happens to be ‘the fourth and last day of the Festival of the Black Madonna’, the multitude going to her shrine is confronted by a new sight as ‘a strange new song goeth up’ from the priests (18), proclaiming that the immortal mother of god has sacrificed herself. Suddenly smoke is seen, ‘issuing from the mouth and nostrils of the Black Madonna . . . [while] great tongues of flame shoot forth amidst the wreaths of smoke’ (18). Soon ‘from forth of the Black Madonna come strange and horrible cries, as though a mortal woman were perishing by the torture of fire’ (18).

23Those who face the Black Madonna in their hurried flight

see for a moment, in the glare of sunrise, a swarthy, naked figure, with a tiger-skin about the shoulders, crucified against the smooth white slope. Down from the outspread hands of Bihr the Chief trickle two long wavering streamlets of blood: two long streamlets of blood drip, drip, down the white glaring face of the rock from the pierced feet. (18)

24If ‘The Black Madonna’ can be described as a short story featuring pagan elements, fateful love and exoticism, mixing the religious and the profane, beauty and death, it is also a proto-whodunit steeped in indeterminacy, leaving the reader to decide whether god or a god exists or not, among other questions. Sexuality and desire are presented as harmful, while reasons for this condition are carefully left out in quite a modernistic way. Does Sharp engage in a rewriting of the supposed origins of religion? Does he give a flamboyant version of the Genesis? Does he take his cue from Pater’s discreet assimilation of Dionysus to Christ? His short story is redolent with fin-de-siècle syncretism fuelled by the waning of established religious discourses, as well as by late-Victorian ethnography. It is indeed difficult to insert such a text in any specific religious creed as it relies on, and mixes several of them.

25Possibly as a contrast to such sombre vision, the next text, ‘The Coming of Love’ by Geoffrey Gascoigne, ends on a more positive note: ‘Those eyes of brave desire, deep wells o’erbrimmed with rapture!’ (19) Gascoigne’s four quatrains celebrate desire and love, possibly with an oread, thus introducing the motive of pagan creatures living in a Christian world, i.e. H. Heine’s and Pater’s ‘gods in exile’ (Pater 1988, 20–1), which appears in ‘The Oread. A Fragment’. The last text of the Pagan Review is a tale accompanied by a footnote stating that it is a ‘fragment . . . from a forthcoming volume by Mr. Charles Verlayne, entitled “La Mort s’amuse”, ‘which, with a fantastic connecting thread of narrative, consists in a series of “Barbaric Studies,” in each of which a recreation of an antique type is attempted, but in striking contrast with and direct relation to the life of today’ (41).

  • 20 ‘Her gaze was fascinated by the reflection of herself in the tarn.’ (42)

26The tale features indeed a Scottish oread encountering a young huntsman she thinks is her male counterpart, before she discovers him naked and therefore more pleasant to look at. The theme of Greece transposed in the North was not new and Verlayne uses a fair amount of Scottish words (corrie, glen, deer, heather, etc) to import Greek paganism to Scotland. The tale features the fin-de-siècle topos of Narcissus as the young oread gazes at herself,20 ‘vaguely yearning with that nostalgia for her ancestral kind which had been born afresh and deeply by the contemplation of her second self in the mountain-pool’ (43). However, the temptation of self-love soon gives way to otherness as she notices ‘an animal she had never seen before. Her heart leapt within her: for lo, here was another such as herself. . . And yet—and yet—there was some difference. It—he—’ (44).

  • 21 She does not understand ‘who or what this creature like herself was: why he too was not white-skinn (...)

27If the reader quickly understands that ‘it’ or ‘he’ is a young man, it will take some time and manoeuvres before the oread comes to terms with human otherness. The narrative alternatively focuses on the two protagonists and allows the reader a glimpse at their disquieted minds: the oread sees someone she cannot fathom,21 the young man sees ‘this lovely vision of womanhood’ whom he thinks is a ‘creation of his perverted brain’ (45). When she finally sees him bathing, ‘gleaming white as herself’, the oread realises that ‘here was the true Oread. He had been ridiculously disguised, that was all’ (47). The discovery of his nakedness enables her to feel ‘a rapture of companionship’ (47).

28Charles Verlayne’s paganism is a return to a primeval age of nakedness and happy partnership predicated on self-realisation and the discovery of sexual alterity. Likewise, ‘An Untold Story’, by Lionel Wingrave, is a poem depicting a scene of loneliness with an interior monologue and concluding on the liberation from an oppressive relationship. Some ‘beautiful eyes’ do not return the narrator’s passion but he has freed himself from their entrapment: ‘No more win’st thou this last frail worshipping breath’ (29).

  • 22 When the murder is committed, the focus shifts from the brothers to Gaetano who sees Guido fleeing (...)

29‘The Rape of the Sabines’ by James Marazion is a tale engaging in rewriting and revising Roman history with a dash of the violence allegedly characteristic of Renaissance Italy. In the Sabine mountains, two young men, Andrea Falcone and Marco Vaccaro, stab to death two older men, Simone Gaetano and Gregorio da Forma, who wanted to marry Vittoria and Anita, the two daughters of Giovan’ Antonio Della Porta they had chosen as their brides. They do so with the help of Guido, the sisters’ half-brother who has a deep ‘hatred of their morose and tyrannical father’ (32). Paganism is expressed through numerous landscape descriptions underscoring Southern nature, in the reductive use of ‘per Bacco’ by the young men (31), unless it appears as ‘the sweet penetrating flute-notes of the boy-shepherds called blithely from steep to steep’ heard by one Egidanio Gaetano riding his mule (40).22 Is that credulous man hearing the echo of a persistent, ‘ineradicable’ paganism, or does the tale display the rampant signs of a fin-de-siècle paganism that became ‘a ready-made parlour of counter-cultural images’ (Hallett 164)?

  • 23 Between 1877 and 1900, 9 titles on Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism were publishe (...)

30Again, ‘Dionysos in India (Opening Fragment of a Lyrical Drama)’ by William Windover stages three fauns, including a ‘Child-Faun’, awaiting the arrival (the return?) of a god at sunrise among the Himalayas. The coming god is ‘blind’, has ‘lost knowledge of the things that are, / . . . and knoweth nought, / Nought feels, but inextinguishable pain’ (51). Cursed and doomed to wander on the earth, he was there in immemorial time and sees men as ‘morning-dreams’ and Gods as ‘children’. That ‘ancient God’ has his kingdom in ‘the Void, where evermore / Silence sits throned upon Oblivion.’ (52) That mysterious god arrives preceded by ‘a multitude of wings’ and appears as ‘the white glory’. He is ‘the Virgin God’ who is announced by ‘hymns’ and ‘processionals’ that also veil him. The Fragment—a typical Decadent genre—stops here and clearly takes its cue from scholarly essays, studies and translations which had popularised Oriental religions in Britain in the 1880s.23

French Paganism?

  • 24 Kermesse is a collection of short stories. George Eekhoud was a Belgian writer with anarchist views (...)
  • 25 The ominous ‘And must I lose a soul’s inheritance?’
  • 26 Claire is called ‘Sans-Souci’ by her friends, ‘White Flower’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Morning’, by (...)

31Less pagan than French-inspired perhaps is ‘The Pagans. An Untold Memory. Book I’. The epigraphs claim some degree of unconventionality: the first comes from George Eekhoud’s Kermesse,24 the second from the Song of Solomon, and the third from Wilde’s ‘Hélas’.25 Such a patronage introduces a story about a couple who should ‘have been born gipsies’ as they enjoy long walks and rambles in the outskirts of Paris (20). The few retrospective pages take their reader to the contemporary bohemian context of the ‘Hôtel Soleil du Midi’ where Claire Auriol,26 a young woman painter, lives. The interesting feature of the text is the portrayal of Claire, who has painted a portrait of her lover, and who is described as beautiful, with sun-kissed skin, ‘lustrous dark hair’, ‘features . . . more southern than northern’, and eyes of ‘a rich velvety darkness’ (23). The narrator notes the ‘poise of her head, the rhythmic sway and carriage of her body, every motion, every gesture’ and concludes that ‘Claire might have served a sculptor as an ideal model of youth’ (24). She ‘was ever to me the living symbol, nay, the perfect incarnation of joy and beauty of life’ (24). Such attempt at importing the language of painting into literature elicited scorn from the Saturday Review possibly because it was more than outmoded in 1892.

32Claire’s ‘rigid, formal, conventional’ brother, Victor Auriol, dismisses her for pecuniary reasons (25). On leaving the Hôtel with her, the narrator is given a note from Auriol stating that from now on, there will be ‘an insurmountable barrier’ between them but he concludes: ‘Outcasts we were, but two more joyous pagans never laughed in the sunlight, two happier waifs never more fearlessly and blithely went forth into the green world’ (28).

33Such a Keatsian ‘green world’ is of course reminiscent of the pagan world of yore as the hôtels, the bohemia and the refusal of conventions summarise Paris according to William Dreeme. A significant note is the genealogy of the lovers: Claire’s mother was Irish, her father half Scottish. Wilfrid Traquair, her lover and ‘the present writer’ (26), is a Scot who has made his literary apprenticeship in Paris at the ‘librairie Léon Vanier, that literary sponsor of so many of les jeunes’ (25). Those Western and Northern descents may be inherited from Pater’s Imaginary Portraits and herald the importance of ethnicity and nationality that was also part of the map of the 1890s.

  • 27 Pastels in Prose. From the French, by Stuart Merrill, with an introduction by William Dean Howells, (...)
  • 28 The reviewer derides the ‘cant of altruism in art’: the ‘artist must produce for himself; not for o (...)
  • 29 For instance The Foresters by A. Tennyson, which has ‘neither intensity of vision, overmastery of p (...)

34In keeping with the French touch of the Review, the last section is devoted to book reviews. At that time, all periodicals featured some, but the only book reviewed here is a collection of prose poems, Pastels in Prose.27 Not only does the reviewer embrace art for art’s sake28 while contributing to the importation of nascent Continental symbolism into Britain, but ‘Contemporary record’, the last section, consists in shorter notices of recent publications tartly reviewed by W. H. B. lamenting the crassness of British readers.29

  • 30 It would include an article ‘The New Paganism’ by the anagrammatic H. P. Siwäarmill to reflect upon (...)
  • 31 ‘No fiction can be considered, excerpt short stories characterised by distinct actuality, whether “ (...)
  • 32 ‘Controversial and political matter will not be considered’ (64).

35Concluding with the promise of ‘a word to les jeunes here [next month]’ (62), Sharp thought the Pagan Review would reach number 2 as he announced the table of contents of the next issue.30 He expressed a clear idea of the national politics of his review: translations were to be limited as the Pagan Review must be ‘national, and not a French bastard, or mix-breed of any kind.’ (64) ‘Mme Rose Désirée Myrthil’, a highly French-sounding name, though, was to publish her autobiography which would be the ‘revelation of a woman’s life’ and an example of ‘true paganism of spirit and modernity of temperament’ (64). A member of the younger generation upon which Sharp sets some of his hopes, she may well have morphed into the more Scot-sounding Fiona MacLeod. Interestingly, ‘the collaboration of some of the most typical poets and romancists [sic] of the new movement in France and Belgium’ was to give the ‘Contemporary Record’ ‘suggestive if succinct summaries of what is being done here and abroad by les jeunes, a term which, it may again be pointed out, does not necessarily imply mere youthfulness in years’ (64). ‘Les jeunes’, the young, were certainly not to be defined by their age but rather by their adhesion to Sharp’s multi-faceted paganism, although most of the writers he discussed belonged to the younger generation. Spirit more than generational affiliation qualified one as a pagan, and one might wonder if Sharp’s paganism was not synonymous with modernity or at least, novelty, whether in life or in literature, with the desire to break free from convention—a desire that one could experience regardless of one’s age. Such a hypothesis is supported by the editor’s final repetition of the principles of the review: ecumenical acceptance of all short texts31 and disdain of current politics for the sake of an alternative politics32 as ‘this magazine does not aim to be a popular monthly on familiar lines’ (64).

Fin de revue

36It certainly was not and Sharp informed Janvier of the end of his venture in a letter signed W. H. Brooks: ‘I write to let you know that The Pagan Review breathed its last a short time ago. Its end was singularly tranquil, but was not unexpected. Your friend Mr Sharp consoles me by talking of a certain resurrection for what he rudely calls ‘this corruptible’: if so the P/R will speak a new and wiser tongue, appear a worthier guise, and put on immortality as a Quarterly’ (E. Sharp 330).

37All subscribers were likewise informed by a letter and a card bearing the ironic inscription:

On the 15th September, still-born The Pagan Review.

Regretted by none, save the affectionate parents and a few forlorn friends, The Pagan Review has returned to the void whence it came. The progenitors, more hopeful than reasonable, look for an unglorious but robust resurrection at some more fortunate date. “For of such is the Kingdom of Paganism.”

W. H. Brooks. (E. Sharp 333–4)

  • 33 ‘The Pagan Review will be revived next year, but probably as a quarterly: and I look to you as one (...)

38R. Murray Gilchrist who sent a contribution to the Pagan Review was informed in a letter dated October 1892 that ‘for unforeseen private reasons serial publication of The Pagan Review will be held over till sometime in 1893’ (E. Sharp 331). Another letter on 22 October 1892 asked him to keep the secret of its single author.33

  • 34 ‘“Frankly, I am in earnest this time. Order me a dove-coloured vest, apple-green trousers, a pouch, (...)

39Finally, during a special ceremony, the Review was buried ‘in a corner of the garden; a framed inscription was put to mark the spot, and remained there until we left Rudgwick.’ (334). That unconventional ceremony certainly echoed the editor’s quotation from Gautier34 in his Foreword, which had allowed him to present the Pagan Review as ‘“the lamb”’ (4). That sacrificial lamb also served as a reminder that paganism existed in a Christian context that sometimes took its revenge, although here as in the whole review, the reader remains constantly uncertain of the degree of earnestness of tales, poems, fragments and editorial comments. When seen from a strict religious or theological point of view, Sharp’s paganism remains joyfully indeterminate. It might be taken as one instance of fin-de-siècle syncretism, but also as a search for an alternative lifestyle which paradoxically promoted invention and self-fashioning by returning to, and revising older creeds, texts, and genres. Hovering between the old and the new, tradition and invention, it illustrates a phase in the transition between late-Victorian and modern forms of belief. Paganism also drew the attention on a somewhat puzzling phenomenon: the segmentation of the population between generations or communities that no longer echoed and duplicated each other but embraced self-fashioning and claimed their self-definition. To be a pagan was to refuse being a Christian, the embodiment of an older type of subjectivity. The definition may have been quite reductive by fashioning Christians along such thin lines, it signalled the increasing fragmentation of the religious map of late-Victorian Britain.

40The Pagan Review provides a surprisingly comprehensive overview of what paganism came to represent for some late-Victorians. As D. Denisoff aptly comments, it was ‘not as a failed attempt to start up a periodical, but as an avant-garde experiment intended to envision a community of neo-pagan artists who saw transmutability and diversity as a part of their identity and spirituality.’ (Denisoff 2012) In literature, it was expressed especially by importing French genres and styles of writing, and functioned as an aftermath of the 1860s art for art’s sake credo of Pater and Swinburne. Decadents and Symbolists progressively replaced Gautier and Baudelaire as tutelary figures while enlarging their artistic scope to promote life for life’s sake. Arguably France and French writers were partly used as a screen for topics that could not be openly discussed such as heterodox religious affiliation, or alternative or dissident lifestyles, as is the case in ‘The Pagans. An Untold Memory. Book I’. One might therefore wonder if national otherness is not doomed to give way to the exploration of otherness within one’s nation as Sharp demonstrated when he turned to his Celtic heritage by becoming Fiona MacLeod.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Brooks, W. H. [W. Sharp], ed. The Pagan Review. 1 (August 1892): 1–64. Web. [Accessed 10 October 2014]. https://ia600801.us.archive.org/31/items/ThePaganReview/TPR.pdf

Barry, W. F. ‘Neo-Paganism’. Quarterly Review 172 (1891): 273–304.

Chesterton, G. K. The Victorian Age in Literature. New York: Holt and Co; London: Thornton Butterworth, 1913.

Davy, Barbara Jane. Introduction to Pagan Studies. Plymouth: AltaMira Press, 2007.

Denisoff, Dennis. The Pagan Review in Context. Web. 2012. [Accessed 21 April 2014]. http://1890s.ca/ScholarlyCommentary.aspx?p=The%20Pagan%20Review&c=3

Derrida, Jacques. La dissémination, Paris: Seuil, 1972.

Etienne, Louis. ‘Le Paganisme poétique en Angleterre.’ Revue des Deux Mondes 59 (1867): 291–317.

Greer, John Michael. The New Encyclopaedia of the Occult. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.

Hallett, Jennifer. ‘Wandering Dreams and Social Marches: Varieties of Paganism in Late Victorian and Edwardian England’. The Pomegranate 8.2 (2006): 161–83.

Jackson, Holbrook. The Eighteen Nineties. 1913. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1939.

Louis, Margot K. ‘Gods and Mysteries’. Victorian Studies (Spring 2005): 329–61.

Luhrmann, T. M. ‘The Resurgence of Romanticism: Contemporary Neopaganism, Feminist Spirituality and the Divinity of Nature.’ Environmentalism. The View from Anthropology. Ed. Kay Milton, New York: Routledge, 1993.

‘pagan, n. and adj.’ OED Online. OUP, June 2014. Web. [Accessed 21 July 2014]. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/135980?redirectedFrom=pagan

‘The Pagan Review.’ Rev. of The Pagan Review 1. The Saturday Review. 3 September 1892: 268–69. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Accessed 5 April 2014]. http://1890s.ca/HTML.aspxs=review_TPR_saturday_review_sept_1892.html

Review of Pastels in Prose. From the French, by Stuart Merrill, with an introduction by William Dean Howells. New York: Harpers and Brothers, 1890.

Pater, Walter. The Renaissance. Studies in Art and Poetry. 1893. Oxford: OUP, The World’s Classics, 1988.

Pater, Walter. ‘A Study of Dionysus. I. The Spiritual Form of Fire and Dew’. Fortnightly Review 26 (December 1876): 752–72.

Pittock, Murray G. H. ‘Sharp, William [Fiona MacLeod] (1855–1905)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. OUP, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36041, [Accessed 21 July 2014].

Sharp, Elizabeth. William Sharp (Fiona MacLeod). A Memoir Compiled by his Wife Elizabeth. 2 vols. New York: Duffield and C°, 1912.

Sharp, William. ‘La Jeune Belgique’. Nineteenth Century 34 (September 1893): 416–36.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Jackson’s examples include Grant Allen’s 1894 ‘New Hedonism’, H. D. Traill’s ‘New Fiction’, the ‘New Voluptuousness ascribed to the Picture of Dorian Gray’ in the St James’s Gazette, and Wilde’s ‘New Remorse’ in The Spirit Lamp in 1892. Also new were the ‘Spirit,’ ‘Humour’, ‘Realism’, ‘Drama’, ‘Unionism’, ‘Party’, ‘Woman’, Henley’s New Review, and The New Age.

2 Throughout the whole article, page references without a name will come from The Pagan Review edited by W. H. Brooks [W. Sharp].

3 Sharp wrote biographies of Shelley, Heine, and Browning for the Great Writers series, while contributing to Ernest Rhys’s Camelot Classics, and being editor in the Canterbury Poets series. My information on Sharp mainly derives from Murray G. H. Pittock.

4 (OED 2014). The OED also defines a pagan as: ‘A follower of a pantheistic or nature-worshipping religion; esp. a neopagan.’ As an adjective, pagan qualifies people ‘Holding, characteristic of, or relating to those who do not subscribe to any major or recognized religion, esp. the dominant religion of a particular society; spec. heathen, non-Christian or pre-Christian (usually with connotations of savagery or primitiveness).’ Going as far as ‘Pantheistic, nature-worshipping; (now) esp. Neopagan.’ And ‘In extended use: immoral, spiritually lacking; uncivilized, backward, savage’.

5 Twelve volumes followed over the next 25 years.

6 ‘tout, jusqu’à ce paganisme mutilé, qui, ne pouvant rendre à la vie les anciennes lois morales, essaie de se passer de toute loi morale’. (Etienne 307).

7 ‘Non, il est trop tard pour se faire païen du fond du cœur, il est trop tard de deux mille ans’ (Etienne 315).

8 Swinburne ‘fait table rase dans son âme de toute espèce de foi et de doctrine morale pour la livrer à un paganisme outré’ (Etienne 317).

9 On the different literary uses of mythography by the Victorians see Margot K. Louis.

10 Elizabeth Sharp published books on art and music history. She translated Heine and edited Women Poets of the Victorian Era (1890). She collaborated with her husband on Lyra Celtica (1896) and edited the writings of her late husband. See Pittock.

11 The Pagan Review asked would-be subscribers or contributors to send all correspondence to ‘Mr. W. H. Brooks, Buck’s Green, Rudgwick, Sussex’.

12 The Sin Eater (1895) was published by Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, a firm established to publish literature in support of the Celtic revival, with Sharp as its literary adviser. In 1896 Sharp published an edition of Macpherson’s Ossian. See Pittock.

13 The secret was revealed in a letter that he wrote to his friends, and which was published posthumously. See Pittock.

14 He was to publish ‘La Jeune Belgique’ (Sharp 1893, 416-36).

15 Léon Vanier (1847-1896) was a publisher who mainly published Symbolist and Decadent poets.

16 ‘As he had no contributors, for he realised he would have to attract them, he himself wrote the whole of the Contents under various pseudonyms. It was published on August 15th, 1892’ (E. Sharp 322).

17 La Croix de Berny is as an epistolary novel written by T. Gautier, Jules Sandeau, Mme de Girardin and Méry under the respective pseudonyms of Edgar de Meilhan, Robert de Monbert, Irène de Chateaudun, and Raymond de Villiers. It was serialised in 1845 and published as a novel in 1846.

18 For instance, one finds ‘a white magnolia, whose white blooms gleamed in the twilight like ivory discs’ (31). The flower assimilated to precious material is a Decadent topos.

19 ‘Make me unto thyself, for I love you!’ (14)

20 ‘Her gaze was fascinated by the reflection of herself in the tarn.’ (42)

21 She does not understand ‘who or what this creature like herself was: why he too was not white-skinned, but furred like a fox or the wild cattle: or why and how he dealt death with noise and flame by means of a stick.’ (44), she mistakes him for what ‘seemed, truly, an Oread like herself’ (45).

22 When the murder is committed, the focus shifts from the brothers to Gaetano who sees Guido fleeing away, rejoicing that Andrea and Marco will not be able to abduct the Sabine women.

23 Between 1877 and 1900, 9 titles on Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism were published in the series Non-Christian Religious Systems (SPCK), including studies by Monier-Williams (Hinduism, 1877) and T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhism : Being a Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha (1877).

24 Kermesse is a collection of short stories. George Eekhoud was a Belgian writer with anarchist views; he had also published a novel picturing frankly same-sex love in 1889, Escal-Vigor.

25 The ominous ‘And must I lose a soul’s inheritance?’

26 Claire is called ‘Sans-Souci’ by her friends, ‘White Flower’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Morning’, by her lover, the narrator of the story (22).

27 Pastels in Prose. From the French, by Stuart Merrill, with an introduction by William Dean Howells, New York: Harpers and Brothers, 1890.

28 The reviewer derides the ‘cant of altruism in art’: the ‘artist must produce for himself; not for others. The others benefit—as those do who listen to the thrush’s song, though the singer may be unconscious of or indifferent to their presence’ (55).

29 For instance The Foresters by A. Tennyson, which has ‘neither intensity of vision, overmastery of passion, vigour of dialogue, [nor] convincing verisimilitude’, is best suited for British and American audiences, quips the reviewer. (61)

30 It would include an article ‘The New Paganism’ by the anagrammatic H. P. Siwäarmill to reflect upon the principles of the Review; poems by ‘several of the younger men, known and unknown’ (63); ‘One or two short stories dealing with striking and actual episodes of contemporary Italian and Greek life’ such as ‘The Last of the Mysti’; an ‘instalment of [Charles Verlayne’s] Barbaric Studies’; another ‘dramatic interlude’ by W. S. Fanshawe; and ‘novel sketches and strange experiences of “Foreign London”’ by John Lafarge. Several publication announcements also appeared: contributors were to publish texts ranging from The Tower of Silence by George Gascoigne, featuring ‘a strange psychical problem’ (64); Vistas by W. S. Fanshawe; La Mort s’amuse by Charles Verlayne; The Hazard of Love. A Romance by J. Marazion; Dionysos in India by William Windover. The only strangers are Richard Le Gallienne and his English Poems and George Douglas Bart’s Living Scottish Poets: An Anthology.

31 ‘No fiction can be considered, excerpt short stories characterised by distinct actuality, whether “romantic” or “realist”’ (64).

32 ‘Controversial and political matter will not be considered’ (64).

33 ‘The Pagan Review will be revived next year, but probably as a quarterly: and I look to you as one of the younger men of notable talent to give a helping hand with your pen.’ (E. Sharp 333)

34 ‘“Frankly, I am in earnest this time. Order me a dove-coloured vest, apple-green trousers, a pouch, a crook; in short, the entire outfit of a Lignon Shepherd. I shall have a lamb washed to complete the pastoral.”’ (4).

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Bénédicte Coste, « Late-Victorian Paganism: the case of the Pagan Review », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 80 Automne | 2014, mis en ligne le 23 janvier 2015, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/1533 ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.1533

Haut de page

Auteur

Bénédicte Coste

Bénédicte Coste is Professor of Victorian Studies at the University of Burgundy. She mainly specialises in Walter Pater and Aestheticism. A Visiting Fellow at the Andrew William Clark Memorial Library (Los Angeles) in 2011, she co-organised a European Science Foundation workshop on the revaluation of Aestheticism and Modernism with Professors Catherine Delyfer and Christine Reynier in 2013. Her publications include: Walter Pater, esthétique (2011); Walter Pater, critique littéraire. « The Excitement of the Literary Sense » (2010). With Catherine Delyfer, she co-edited Aesthetic Lives (Rivendale, 2013). Her French translation of Pater’s The Renaissance will be published in 2014.

Bénédicte Coste enseigne la littérature et la culture victoriennes à l’université de Bourgogne. Son travail porte principalement sur Walter Pater et le mouvement esthétique. Publications: Walter Pater, esthétique (2011); Walter Pater, critique littéraire. « The Excitement of the Literary Sense » (2010). Elle a par ailleurs co-édité avec Catherine Delyfer, Aesthetic Lives (Rivendale, 2013). Sa traduction en français de The Renaissance de Walter Pater sera publiée en 2014.

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée
  • Revues.org