Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity

By James Eli Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Muscular Aestheticism: Masculine
Authority and the Male Body

I could wish I were an Apollo for His sake! Strange idea, yet it seems so harmonious to me!

Charles Kingsley, Life and Works 1:87-88

It is "the only great prose in modern English," Yeats wrote of Pater Marius the Epicurean (202). Though often cited, Yeats's verdict is perplexing, inasmuch as Marius is of all Pater's works the most clearly responsive to the narrative and rhetorical conventions of Victorian earnestness. 1. Despite its setting in Antonine Rome, the novel enacts a familiar pattern of the Victorian Bildungsroman: a traditional childhood religious faith collapses under the force of contemporary skepticism, but the emotional rewards of that faith are subsequently recuperated in a secular devotion to the forces of "intellectual light" (1:127). Marius's personal qualities, moreover, confirm the age's most cherished virtues: despite his skepticism, Marius evinces "a genuine virility," "vigorous intelligence," "a cold austerity of mind," "the honest action of his own untroubled, unassisted intelligence" (1:124-25); even when he embraces the daring views of Heraclitus, Marius finds there "many precepts towards a strenuous self-consciousness in all we think and do, that loyalty to cool and candid reason, which makes strict attentiveness of mind a kind of religious service" (1:130).

____________________
1.
Houghton, Victorian Frame of Mind (218-62), offers the best overview of those conventions.

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