Polyphony and the anxiety of influence in the fiction of Henry James
James's fiction, especially in the Middle Phase, centres on the figure of the artist and is characterized by, the two interrelated aspects which previous criticism has largely overlooked: the Bakhtinian 'polyphonic' -creation of 'author-thinkers'; and the conflict between ephebes and precursors, for which Harold-Bloom's concept of 'the-anxiety of influence' is the most illuminating model. Polyphony is the narrative mode, and influence is the intra-artistic, theme. These, as the Introduction to the thesis makes clear, are rehearsed in James's inaugural novel, Roderick Hudson. Rowland Mallet is an author-thinker, and his failure is caused by authorial limitations. His monologism -is impaired by his mistaking empathy for the authorial sympathy. Likewise, Hudson's failure does not arise from a mercurial temperament, but from a polyphonic shortcoming: not possessing the power of fiction to contain the fiction of power in, his mentor. And the relationships among the three artists - Gloriani, Hudson and Singleton - perfectly exemplify the Bloomian-theme. It is these two concepts, polyphony and influence, which are the major preoccupation in the Middle Phase; as, the works chosen demonstrate. These are a novella, a novel, and a number of short stories all of which have been unjustifiably neglected. Chapter One, on The Aspern Papers, argues that Tina Bordereau, far from being, the artless victim seen by many critics, actually challenges and defeats the narrator by the very form of her narrative. Her 'realist' discourse undermines his language of 'romance', and shows up its internal unstability. Chapter Two is an extensive study of the critical reception of The Tragic Muse. The most common areas of critical attention have been its contemporary topicality, its relation to previous novels on similar themes, and the possible genealogy of Gabriel Nash. Those have all missed the core of the work. - Chapter Three demonstrates how polyphony and the anxiety of influence make the novel what it really is. Influence arises from the juxtaposition of, and the wrestling between, artistic ephebes and their precursors (Nick and Nash, Miriam and Madame Carre). The dialogic quality defined by Bakhtin is crucial to the proper, and even-handed, characterization of all, the conflicts in the novel. And since most of James's tales in the eighties and nineties -are about 'masters - and acolytes, the anxiety of influence remains central. Chapter Four is a study of 'The Author of Beltraffiol' and 'The Lesson of the Master'. Again the characters' manipulations are a crucial focus in a way that G6rard Genette's terminology helps to illuminate. The fact that the ephebe is the author-thinker emphasizes the inextricability of the Bakhtinian and the Bloomian in James. Just as polyphony offers a different focus for explicating the poetics of James's fiction; so the ephebal conflict provides the basis for a fresh perception of James's own artistic struggle.