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Title: The impression in the essays and late novels of Henry James
Author: Scholar, John
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines the meanings and uses of the impression in the essays and late novels of Henry James. While James found fault with impressionism in French painting and literature, he repeatedly called the novel an ‘impression of life’, and used the term to figure important moments of perception and action for his protagonists. This thesis offers the first full-length study of the impression on its own terms, rather than through the lens of a wider artistic or philosophical movement, the most obvious example being impressionism. It locates James’s impression within an intertextual history comprising British empiricist philosophy (Locke and Hume), empiricist psychology (William James), British aestheticism (Pater and Wilde), and, looking forwards, twentieth-century theories of the performative (Austin, Derrida, de Man, Butler). It offers a series of close readings of James’s non-fictional and fictional treatments of the impression in his early criticism and travel writing (1872-88), his prefaces to the New York edition (1907-09), and the three novels of his major phase, The Ambassadors (1903), The Wings of the Dove (1902), and The Golden Bowl (1904). This exploration does not produce any unified definition of the impression in the work of James. It finds, rather, that the impression crystallizes one of James’s main themes, the struggle between art and life, a consequence of the competing empiricist and aesthetic tendencies that the thesis distinguishes within accounts of the impression available to James. The thesis goes on to show that impressions in James may be made as well as received, and so introduces a further distinction, between ‘performative’ and ‘cognitive’ impressions. It argues that what James does with these competing impressions – empiricist and aesthetic, cognitive and performative – is to make them the narrative focus of his late novels and their drama of consciousness.
Supervisor: Bush, Ron; Johnson, Jeri Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; Henry James ; 1843-1916 - criticism and interpretation ; English fiction - twentieth century ; impressionism ; empiricism and literature ; aestheticism ; philosophy and literature ; psychology and literature ; art and literature