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Lene Østermark-Johansen (ed.), Walter Pater

Imaginary Portraits, London, MHRA Jewelled Tortoise vol. 1, MHRA Critical Texts vol. 35, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-907322-55-6
Bénédicte Coste
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Lene Østermark-Johansen (ed.), Walter Pater: Imaginary Portraits, London, MHRA Jewelled Tortoise vol. 1, MHRA Critical Texts vol. 35, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-907322-55-6

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  • 1 Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance, ed. Matthew Beaumont, Oxford: World’s Clas (...)
  • 2 Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean, ed. Gerald Monsman, Kansas City: Valancourt Books, 2008.

1Recent annotated editions of Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance1 and Marius the Epicurean2 have contributed to the vibrancy of Pater studies; they have also reinforced the need for a fully annotated edition of Pater’s imaginary portraits, both for teaching and scholarly purposes. All Paterians should therefore be grateful, firstly to the editors of the newly created MRHA Jewelled Tortoise collection, the first volume of which is devoted to an edition of all of Pater’s imaginary portraits, and secondly, for L. Østermark-Johansen’s ground-breaking edition. L. Østermark-Johansen has chosen to include the portraits published in book-length format in 1887 as well as those which first appeared in several periodicals and which were afterwards published in different volumes—Miscellaneous Studies, Greek Studies—by Charles L. Shadwell after Pater’s death in 1894. Along with ‘A Prince of Court Painters’, ‘Denys l’Auxerrois’, ‘Sebastian van Storck’, and ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold’, the reader finds a fully annotated edition of ‘Diaphaneitè’, ‘The Child in the House’, ‘Emerald Uthwart’, ‘Hippolytus Veiled’, ‘Apollo in Picardy’ and ‘An English Poet’, published by May Ottley in 1931. Pater’s other unfinished portraits do not appear, certainly a wise choice considering the intended readership of the edition.

2As L. Østermark-Johansen reminds us in her Introduction, annotating Pater’s texts involves a wide array of fields of expertise—Classical Studies, modern languages, philosophy, religion, history of art, of which the editor is a specialist, and European literature from Antiquity to the nineteenth century. Her work has not only consisted in making sure that twenty-first-century readers understand all of Pater’s explicit references to the above list of disciplines and his use of foreign words, phrases and quotations, but also to trace most of Pater’s unacknowledged references, be they biblical or Classical, and allusions (phrases, names, concepts, individual lines). In days of intellectual attrition and of increased specialisation this first critically annotated edition comes as a welcome and much needed work, fully responding to the collection’s aim, which is to make notoriously complex Aesthetic and Decadents texts available to a wider readership.

3L. Østermark-Johansen’s introduction fulfils the aim of briefly summarising Pater’s university and literary career before it presents Pater’s art of the ‘imaginary portrait’, noting how ambiguous the phrase is, both hovering between creation and re-creation, and questioning reality, reference, and resemblance. It is never made clear whether we are reading portraits of types or of individuals: quite an unsettling question considering the time when Pater wrote them and which saw the advent of the modern notion of subjectivity as opposed to individuality. Nor do we notice how elaborate and sometimes manipulative, Pater’s narrative voice is, relying on multiple frames and devices. L. Østermark-Johansen also rightfully notes his rarely acknowledged sense of humour, especially manifest in ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold’, the caustic portrait of a failed aesthete. She also draws attention to the imaginary portrait’s links to the Gothic, to the clash between pagan and Christian cultures constituting the underlying theme of ‘Denys’ and ‘Apollo’, for instance.

4All the portraits are briefly and efficiently introduced, with footnotes referencing literature devoted to each one. The edition also includes four appendixes that will help readers to appreciate their intertexual dimension: ‘The Gods in Exile’ by H. Heine (1853), ‘Watteau’, in L’art du xviiie siècle by Jules and Edmond de Goncourt (1861), ‘A Study of Dionysus’ (1876) and ‘Lacedaemon’ (1892) both by Pater. Last, but not least, nineteen black and white illustrations give a hint of Pater’s extensive ‘“visual reference library”’ (9). No less than twenty-seven Dutch artists are mentioned in ‘Sebastian van Storck’, and they are but a fragment of Pater’s extraordinary acquaintance with the visual arts.

5Aimed at a different readership than the forthcoming OUP edition of Imaginary Portraits also edited by L. Østermark-Johansen, this invaluable edition will hopefully bring some hitherto neglected texts of the Pater canon to a wider readership including undergraduates, especially as it comes for a very reasonable price. A definite ‘must-buy’.

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Notes

1 Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance, ed. Matthew Beaumont, Oxford: World’s Classics, 2011.

2 Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean, ed. Gerald Monsman, Kansas City: Valancourt Books, 2008.

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Bénédicte Coste, « Lene Østermark-Johansen (ed.), Walter Pater », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 82 Automne | 2015, mis en ligne le 11 avril 2016, consulté le 25 septembre 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/2400

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Bénédicte Coste

University of Burgundy

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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.

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