Assigned: The Renaissance (1636-44), Appreciations (1645-48).
"Preface to The Renaissance"
1. What similarities and differences do you find between Pater's statements about the "the aim of true criticism" (1638) and Arnold's objectivist remarks about "the critic's task" in "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time"?
2. What must the critic do first, before he or she can hope to achieve the "aim of true criticism"? What is the aesthetic critic's responsibility to the work of art and to the audience?
3. How does Pater describe the 15th.-century Italian Renaissance towards the end of the Preface? To what extent do his remarks resemble Matthew Arnold's ideas concerning artists and the societies within which they create? (See "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.")
"La Gioconda" passage from the chapter "Leonardo da Vinci" in The Renaissance
4. To what extent does Pater, in describing Leonardo's famous portrait of Mona Lisa ("La Gioconda"), achieve "the aim of true criticism" that he sets forth in his Preface? Is Pater "seeing the object as in itself it really is" or is he rather, to borrow Wilde's witticism about Pater and Arnold, "seeing the object as in itself it really is not"? Explain.
"Conclusion to The Renaissance"
5. How does Pater describe the "tendency of modern thought" in the first few pages of his Conclusion? What examples does he provide of this tendency, and how does he enlist the language of scientific objectivity and discovery in his description?
6. How does Pater define "success in life" on pages 1633-34? Again, how does he employ the language of science to make his case?
7. What sort of audience do you think might find Pater's aesthetic program appealing and viable? How might it be said that Pater's program amounts to another Victorian withdrawal from the "romantic project" as we have discussed it in our sessions on the romantics?
8. Do you find Pater's final statements about art's place in the hierarchy of pleasure convincing in light of the previous remarks he has made about pleasure in his Conclusion? Why might his Conclusion have been considered misleading or morally suspect by some Victorian readers?
9. To what extent does the tone of the Conclusion suit the statements about aesthetic criticism Pater makes in his Preface? Explain.
"Style" from Appreciations
10. On 1645-47, Pater argues that while there is of course sense in differentiating poetry from prose, the distinction is by no means absolute. What does he apparently mean by his phrase "the imaginative sense of fact" that marks both good poetry and good prose, whether fiction or non-fiction?
11. On 1647-48, Pater makes his case that "imaginative prose" best corresponds to the needs of a contemporary readership. What reasons does he give for thinking as he does? How does a comparison between music and the literary arts help him advance his argument?
Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.