Theory to die for: lunging at the arras in Wilde’s the portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889) and James’s 'The Figure in the Carpet' (1896)

Thurschwell, Pamela (2016) Theory to die for: lunging at the arras in Wilde’s the portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889) and James’s 'The Figure in the Carpet' (1896). Henry James Review. ISSN 0273-0340 (Accepted)

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Abstract

In this article I argue that Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpet” shares remarkable structural similarities with Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Although both works have often been read as parodies of literary critics, they both also toy with the serious possibility that the pursuit of a literary theory might resemble an erotic obsession, and might result in, not the death of the author, but the death of the critic. To better understand the ways in which Wilde and James approach literary criticism in Portrait and “Figure” I consider their shared investment in Shakespeare, who figures in both authors’ work as a larger-than-life exemplar of authorial mastery, while simultaneously functioning as a textual corpus extractable from its author, a space that opens up creative possibilities for the critic. James’s late works on Shakespeare (his short story, “The Birthplace” (1903) and his preface to The Tempest (1907)) reveal a central conflict between James’s devotion to an autonomous artwork and his desire for an all-masterful author. Reading James’s late writings on Shakespeare, in conjunction with the ways his stories about literary criticism prefigure one strand of New Criticism-- Wimsatt and Beardsley’s positing of the intentional fallacy-- can help us understand the apparent paradoxes in James’s relationship to Shakespeare, and in his portrayals of literary critics, and literary criticism.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Henry James; Oscar Wilde; New Criticism; The Intentional Fallacy
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Depositing User: Pam Thurschwell
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2016 08:22
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2017 00:44
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/64741

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