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date: 17 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The late nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement challenged many aspects of Victorian literature and culture. This chapter explores how the emphasis on pleasure within Aestheticism was central to that challenge. The pursuit of ‘art for art’s sake’ might seem to imply a step away from the politics of the day, but the hedonism of the movement, the chapter suggests, subverted dominant arguments about culture and society in an age of democratization. The works of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater provide a means to examine a wider aesthetic counter-culture that resisted Matthew Arnold’s arguments for critical consensus, undermined the calculated happiness of Utilitarian political economy, and broke open new spaces for the appreciation and expression of beauty.

Keywords: Aestheticism, pleasure, Aesthetic movement, ethics, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, hedonism, Hellenism, utilitarian, democracy

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