Walter Pater and Aesthetic Movement

Walter Pater was born in London in 1839, he initially thought of becoming a priest but he abandoned the idea and went to Oxford where he studied philosophy and the classics. Towards the second half of the 1980s, an aesthetic movement was born in Paris that was making art a moral guide; "art for art’s sake" was to be the motto of the aesthetic movement. The word aestheticism comes from a Greek word which means "to perceive", in aestheticism art played a key role: the artist's task is to feel sensations and then to make the reader see and feel these sensations. Pater is considered the founder of the movement and for him art is the only way to stop time, the only certainty.
Henry James was born in New York City but soon he came to Europe. Then he returned to America where he studied law but he spent most of his time writing. His first works are travel stories. He returned to Europe and in Paris he came in contact with many important writers of that period. Then he moved to London where he lived for the rest of his life. In the first part of his career as a novelist he dealt with the theme of the difference between the Europeans and Americans. He wrote: Roderick Hudson, The American, daisy miller, “the portrait of a lady”.
Initially he put attention in the description of people and place in society. Then he focused in what has been called “psychological realism” that is an exploration of states, feelings, human relationships and the study of the human soul; so, James is considered the forerunner of the modern psychological novel. Important is the breaking with the Victorian tradition of the external omniscient narrator; now the narrator is internal to the story, so the “limited point of view” can be developed reading the novel.

Oscar Wilde

He was born in Dublin in 1854. He became a disciple of Pater and after graduating from classics he moved to London where he led a dandy life. In 1881 he published "poems" and was hired for a tour in the United States where he met some aesthetes. In 1883 he married Constance Lloyd who gave him 2 children. Towards the end of the 80s he published a series of short stories: "The Canterville Ghost", "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime", "The Happy Prince and Other Tales" and the novel "The picture of Dorian Gray". Around 1890 he wrote a series of theatrical works, such as "The importance of being Earnest" and the tragedy in French "Salomé"; but both the novel and the tragedy have damaged the author's reputation. In 1892 Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, with whom he undertook a homosexual relationship, for which he was tried and sentenced to 2 years of forced labour. After he was released he lived in France under a pseudonym and died of meningitis in 1900.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: The story is told by a third-person narrator, the perspective is internal. History has an allegorical meaning as it is a nineteenth- century version of the myth of Faust. Wilde is based on the idea of correspondence between the physical and spiritual realms: beautiful people are moral, ugly ones immoral. The moral is that every excess must be punished and that we can’t escape reality, in this case death.
The story: the novel is set in London at the end of the 19th century. The protagonist is Dorian Gray, a young man. Dorian’s beauty fascinates a painter, Basil Hallward, who decides to paint his portrait. The portrait satisfiers the young man’s desires, including that of eternal youth; the sings of age and vice appear on the portrait. Dorian lives only for pleasure, making use of everybody and even letting people die because of his insensitivity. When the painter sees the corrupted image of the portrait, Dorian kills him. Later, Dorian wants to free himself of the portrait, witness to his spiritual corruption, and stabs it, but in doing so he mysteriously kills himself. In the very moment of his death, the picture returns to its original purity, and Dorian’s face becomes wrinkled.
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