Walter Pater and non-Darwinian science

Kistler, Jordan (2023) Walter Pater and non-Darwinian science. Journal of Victorian Culture. vcac080. ISSN 1750-0133 (

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Walter Pater's engagement with nineteenth-century science has long been acknowledged, but it is largely characterised by critics in negative terms. This essay demonstrates that while Pater viewed Darwinian evolutionary theory negatively, insisting that it 'stealthily withdraws the apparently solid earth itself from beneath one's feet' (Plato and Platonism, 1893), he embraced non-Darwinian theories of development, which emphasised directed design rather than random chance. In these theories, like the transcendental morphology propounded by Richard Owen, Pater finds a physical manifestation of his own particular philosophic blend of materialism and idealism. The lens of non-Darwinian science, therefore, helps to explicate Pater's philosophic beliefs, which have often been viewed as frustratingly inconsistent. Viewed through transcendental morphology, Pater's discussion of the 'limitations' of sculpture, too, become clearer. Far from a denigration of sculpture as the art form furthest from the ideal, this essay demonstrates that Pater viewed sculpture in terms of the archetype of transcendental morphology: something both material and immaterial, simple and yet also ideal. Far from retreating from the spectre of contemporary science, as many critics suggest Pater does, Pater views science and the humanities as complementary disciplines, or homologues, sharing an underlying structure.