The Aesthete as a Scientist: Walter Pater and Nineteenth-Century Science


  • Kanarakis Yannis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)



This paper explores the impact of nineteenth-century science on Victorian literature by examining the way Walter Pater, the father of British aestheticism, was influenced by it. Pater adopted the rhetoric of new science and incorporated a wide variety of scientific maxims in his work in order to modernize art and render it timely. This was symptomatic of his anxiety that the sweeping force of nineteenth-century science would render art obsolete. His response to this threat came in the form of a series of suggestions for the role of art and the artist, which eventually comprised a new aesthetic program, aestheticism. Drawing on a plethora of interconnections that scholars have over the past years detected between Pater and the science of his time, my aim in this study is to systematize the interrelationship that the Oxford don established between the scientist and the aesthete, and to explore the grounds on which this association was made. As I shall show, Pater drew on an ethical and a structural kinship between the nineteenth-century artistic movement and contemporary science in order to present the aesthete as a scientist. The implications of this kinship will be addressed as a means of accounting for the fact that aestheticism constitutes a short-lived artistic phenomenon, unable, in the long run, to respond to the call of the times.