Plots and counterplots: Reconsidering the French connection in selected novels of Henry James
In this dissertation, I focus on the influence French writers, particularly of the nineteenth century, brought to bear on James's fiction. James was an avid, although often-times critical, reader of such luminaries as Balzac, Flaubert, Daudet, Zola, and Maupassant. His essays on these novelists and others enabled him to develop his own master narrative of literary theory and to establish a moral stance that was decidedly American in its opposition to explicit discussions of sexual matters and to a tendency in French realist and naturalist fiction to foreground narrative technique and style to the detriment of the moral compass. Nevertheless, James eventually began to focus on narrative technique in his novels, much in the manner of Flaubert, particularly by the time of What Maisie Knew. Additionally, James appropriated plots from French novelists, particularly Balzac. Thus, in this study, I show how James was not only concerned to critique and assimilate the innovations of French writers, but I argue as well that, in many instances, James's plots bear compelling similarities to French novels with which he was quite familiar. In the Introduction, I discuss the relation James's Wings of the Dove bears to Edmond About's Germaine and to Balzac's Le Père Goriot. In Chapter One, I compare James's novella “Madame de Mauves” and his Portrait of a Lady to Mme. de Lafayette's La Princesse de Clèves. In Chapter Two, I discuss James's The Bostonians and the similarities it shares with Daudet's L'Évangéliste. In Chapter Three, I compare James's Ambassadors with Balzac's Louis Lambert. In Chapter Four, I discuss plot similarities between James's Spoils of Poynton and Maupassant's Pierre et Jean. In the Conclusion, I argue that James's increasing interest in narrative technique and point of view paved the way for Modernists such as Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, and especially Proust, with whom James's writing shares special affinities.
0313: Romance literature
0295: Comparative literature