Novelizing Henry James: contemporary fiction's obsession with the Master and his Work
Kent, Jessica Anne
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This dissertation defines and analyzes the primary attributes of a new sub-genre of contemporary fiction: the Henry James novelization. Novels by Colm Tóibín, Cynthia Ozick and Alan Hollinghurst, among dozens of others, turn James into a fictional protagonist, while drawing upon his distinctive literary style, treatment of human psychology, and personal history. James as represented in these fictions is secretive, cripplingly self-aware and obsessed with others' opinions. Above all, he is preoccupied with controlling narratives. Because these works combine biographical and thematic approaches, the Jamesian author-protagonist displays aspects of James's own life, while sharing attributes of his own fictional creations. Thus a principal character type in these works is the addictive personality, as authors like Tóibín invoke the history of alcoholism in the James family, as well as the manipulative yet self-divided creations for which James was famous. The Introduction traces the literary representation of historical authors from the Greek epic through the postmodern novel and explains why Henry James is such an attractive subject for novelization. Chapter One discusses Colm Tóibín's The Master, which represents James gathering material for The Golden Bowl and other late novels. Both Tóibín's James and James's Maggie Verver display personalities that bear the imprint of family pathology, specifically, alcoholism and abuse, and both inhabit communities where moral culpability becomes difficult to assign. Chapter Two treats Cynthia Ozick's "Dictation," a novel about the composition of The Jolly Corner which portrays the Jamesian author as one among various technologies of writing. As James loses control over his narrative, The Jolly Corner becomes a trauma dream in which Spencer Brydon uncannily prefigures the alcoholic in recovery. In Chapter Three, Alan Hollinghurst replaces James with a flawed stand-in, shifting the focus to James's legacy and the state of humanities study today: Nick Guest is engaged in writing a dissertation on James and a screenplay adaptation of The Spoils of Poynton. At the end of The Line of Beauty, Nick Guest has learned the lesson taught by all these novelizations: that James's texts remain deeply, urgently relevant.