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Excerpt: Literary Architecture.

By ELLEN EVE FRANK [Literary Architecture etext] – In literary architecture, the soul of style, while important, affords only secondary colorations, picturesque ones at that, the light and shade, a literary genius loci of atmosphere, playing on and around literature’s overriding architectural structure:

For the literary architecture, if it is to be rich and expressive, involves not only foresight of the end in the beginning, but also development or growth of design, in the process of execution, with many irregularities, surprises, and afterthoughts; the contingent as well as the necessary being subsumed under the unity of the whole. As truly, to the lack of such architectural design . . . informing an entire, perhaps very intricate, composition, which shall be . . . true from first to last to that vision within, may be attributed those weaknesses of conscious or unconscious repetition of word, phrase, motive, or member of the whole matter, indicating . . . an original structure in thought not organically complete.

After describing the literary artist’s task as one of “setting joint to joint,” Pater concludes the passage with a double image, stating, “The house he [the writer] has built is rather a body he has informed.”

For Pater, the activity of great writing is the simultaneous activity of filling—informing—and of forming, the giving of full form/idea to that which is felt, sensed, or known but which has no embodied structure prior to the art act. Literary architecture is, consequently, an alive “reasonable structure”: it is a body with a soul. In this context, the building of literary architecture is a composing of pregnant forms: it is pro-creative and full of care. The architectural analogue helps the reticent Pater to speak of such artistic making without embarrassment of exposure. But more significant for Pater, the analogue enables him to suggest that all structures mean regardless of scale, place, or occasion: Pater moves, in his passage of literary architecture, from art structure to human structure to life structure, from “colour” and “structure” (architecture) to “soul” and “mind” (man) to “soul of humanity” and “structure of human life.”

(Continued at the etext of Literary Architecture: Essays Toward a Tradition: Walter Pater, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Marcel Proust, Henry James. University of California Press | More Chronicle & Notices.)

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