Pater's Portraits: the Aesthetic Hero in 1890

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Pater's fictional writings in 1890 were caught up in a Platonic "dialectic process" with Oscar Wilde's *Picture of Dorian Gray* (1890). Why in 1890 did Pater choose to carry through the difficult project of writing *Plato and Platonism* (1893) rather than finishing his imaginary portraits, *Gaston de Latour* and "Gaudioso, the Second"? What Pater's aesthetic heroes seek and attain is a beatific vision, as "Gaudioso" here makes especially clear. Pater had moved into fiction belatedly in his career, in his thirty-eighth year, so perhaps scholarly explication, like art criticism, came more naturally, and *Plato* was a necessary "prologue" to the eventual completion of his fictional portraits. In 1891 when Pater's review of *Dorian Gray* identified the loss of "moral sense," that ethical motive was precisely the element within beauty and love that he for many years had identified in Plato's dialogues and expounded upon to the Oxford undergraduates. Plato, although certainly no Victorian in temperament or practice, nevertheless perhaps would be a safter aesthetic hero to carry the moral banner, given Benjamin Jowett's popularly successful translations of the *Dialogues* (1871), than either Gaston or Gaudioso.

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