Aestheticism & homosexuality

To the Editors:

Louis Auchincloss's comparison of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde (October 1991) sparked an initial curiosity in this reader by the promise it held out of weighing and contrasting two literary figures often paired by the fact of their having almost exclusively invented and refined the aesthetic movement. However, instead of the just and balanced, not to mention illuminating, analysis I had hoped for, what I found was a heavy-handed, righteous, and extra-literary, that is to say anti-homosexual, essay.

Mr. Auchincloss begins well enough, giving Pater an appreciative and leisurely treatment. His remark that Pater “attempted to sublimate desires unacceptable to society into his art” is neither unreasonable nor offensive. When he expands this remark into a thesis that sublimation and a “monastic existence” helped Pater achieve the...


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