If one is asked about Walter Pater himself one must, for a start, confess that his personality, whether in life or in his books, was not very engaging. A withdrawn, fastidious, unmarried don, who loved travelling but hated being with strangers, he lived almost wholly in the world of art, literature, and philosophy, and spent most of his time as a writer laboriously searching for the perfect phrase. The resulting style can certainly be beautiful, but is apt to be soporific. Its lack of spontaneity deadens the reader’s responses, its steady tempo puts all narrative into slow motion, and its conscientious precision sometimes leads to sentences so long, and syntax so complicated, as to obscure the meaning. Pater’s thoughts seem to have revolved round a small group of images — crystal or precious stone, flame, focus, web, and rebirth or renaissance.
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