Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurean is the culminating expression of a fictional genre that began in the 1830’s and continued until the turn of the century. This genre, a peculiar mixture of religious speculation and personal confession, developed almost synchronously with the assault of science against traditional Christianity, beginning with the publication, in 1832, of Sir Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology. Lyell’s book, which exploded the biblical account of creation, was the first of several books—the most famous being Charles Darwin’s—that shook Western culture to its foundations. The passage of the Reform Bill, the theories of Darwin and Karl Marx, the development of the so-called higher criticism in the exegesis of biblical texts, the rise in population, and the spread of revolution, were but a few events that challenged the inherited certainties of Victorian England. People were forced to reevaluate old beliefs, to doubt discredited traditions, to revise social policies, to change moral valuations. It is not surprising that the confessional novel, the novel of doubt and faith, should acquire an unprecedented significance during such a period. The absence of reliable guideposts threw people back upon themselves and obliged them to search for unity, purpose, and direction in the kaleidoscopic sequence of their own lives.
Marius the Epicurean
Marius the Epicurean is one of the finest...
(The entire section is 4300 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Walter Pater Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!