A subject that biographers and critics once avoided altogether or approached only with great circumspection, Pater's sexuality has become an explicit and even a major topic of recent Pater studies. The story of Pater's erotic relationship in 1874 with an Oxford undergraduate, though apparently known to some of his contemporaries, has only recently been reconstructed and documented, the fullest account being that of Billie Inman. And Pater's encoded sexuality has been made a central topic of critical discourse by Richard Dellamora, who has decoded several of Pater's texts using the method of gender criticism. To the degree that the conclusions of these studies rely on demonstration, they raise questions that are of as much interest as the conclusions themselves. These questions concern the nature of the available evidence, the manner in which the evidence is interpreted, and the suppositions that render one interpretation more persuasive that another. The case of Pater also tests a terminological distinction favored by Dellamora and other gender critics. Because all-male institutions have traditionally discouraged overtly sexual relationships between men, gender criticism distinguishes "homosociality" from "homosexuality" in order to oppose them. For Patter, however, the "homosocial" and the "homosexual" form a continuum that recalls the erotic sensibility of the Greeks he admired. It is therefore difficult to describe Pater's sexual temperament using such language. Probably the least unsatisfactory term would be "homoerotic." It is more inclusive than "homosexual," and as a verbal formation it has the advantage of being purely Greek.
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