Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater
Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation

Sara Lyons

Legenda (General Series)

Legenda

1 July 2015  •  300pp

ISBN: 978-1-909662-48-3 (hardback)  •  RRP £75, $99, €85

ISBN: 978-1-315097-42-8 (Taylor & Francis ebook)

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How did literary aestheticism emerge in Victorian England, with its competing models of religious doubt and visions of secularisation? For Lyons, the aestheticism developed and progressively revised by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) and Walter Pater (1839-1894) illuminates the contradictory impulses of modern secularism: on the one hand, a desire to cast itself as a form of neutrality or disinterestedness; on the other, a desire to affirm 'this world' as the place of human flourishing or even enchantment.

The standard narrative of a 'crisis of faith' does not do justice to the fissured, uncertain quality of Victorian visions of secularisation. Precisely because it had the status of a confusing hypothesis rather than a self-evident reality, it provoked not only dread and melancholia, but also forms of fantasy. Within this context Lyons gives a fundamentally new account of the aims and nature of Victorian aestheticism, taking as a focus its deceptively simple claim that art is for art's sake first of all.

Sara Lyons is a Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Kent.

Reviews:

  • ‘As British aestheticism continues to enjoy a revival of interest, it becomes ever more urgent to reassess the metaphysical work that Pater and Swinburne have done for us in their search for a way beyond doubt. Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater is a timely reminder of our intellectual inheritance from this moment of crisis in Western religion.’ — Orla Polten, Essays in Criticism 66.3, July 2016, 390-96
  • ‘Sara Lyons’s admirable monograph will prove a cornerstone in Victorian studies and will soon become invaluable to students and scholars alike working on 19th-century literature and culture.’ — Charlotte Ribeyrol, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 83, Printemps 2016
  • ‘Lyons’s rethinking of Swinburne’s and Pater’s relationship to religion is absolutely necessary in light of recent revisions of the secularization thesis. She productively complicates the oversimplified binary between belief and unbelief that still too often plagues our readings of Victorian literature, and provocatively asks us to rethink the reasons underlying the Aesthetic Movement’s embrace of an ‘art for art’s sake’ philosophy. Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater should be read by scholars of aestheticism, nine- teenth-century religion, and Victorian literature more generally.’ — Dustin Friedman, Review of English Studies Advance Access 4 October 2016
  • ‘A valuable addition to scholarship on Swinburne, Pater and aestheticism.’ — Beth Newman, Victorian Studies 60.1, Autumn 2017, 126-28

Bibliography entry:

Lyons, Sara, Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater: Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015)

First footnote reference: 35 Sara Lyons, Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater: Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Lyons, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Lyons, Sara. 2015. Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater: Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation (Cambridge: Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Lyons 2015: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Lyons 2015: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)


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