Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
A writer who emphasizes the workings of the minds of his characters by working "an acre of embroidery on an inch of canvas," James calls attention to the portrayal of self-willed deaths in his fiction. Writing in the period following the glorification of the suicidal deaths of Werther and Chatterton, James creates several suicidal characters. Having grown up in a highly individualistic family that emphasized the exercise of free will, and being one who revels in the probing of his characters' consciousnesses, James considered important the role of will in matters of life and death. The ruinous effects of displacement in his self-destructive characters further accentuate the autobiographical element of his suicide fiction. A journey, either physical or mental, the most inalienable part of the quest and an integral part of James's life, also symbolizes the failed quests of many of his suicides. For purposes of this study, characters who willfully courted death at their own hands through violent means and those who died because of the more passive loss of will to live are equally important. Therefore, the term suicide is used in the sense of Emile Durkheim's late nineteenth-century definition as applying to "all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result." Thus, Daisy Miller's willful contracting of fatal malaria and the fatally ill Milly Theale's turning her face to the wall are as much suicidal acts as Hyacinth Robinson's putting a bullet through his heart or Agatha Grice's consumption of poison. Ten instances of physical suicide and eight instances of symbolic suicides in a total of sixteen novels and tales are closely analyzed in this study. Personal experiences, the sense of displacement resulting from trans-Atlantic travels and social mobility, and failed quests characterize James's fictional suicides. Placed against his historical and sociological backgrounds, in the delineation of his suicidal characters James shows himself to be very much a man of his times and of his milieu.
Joseph, Mary John, "Suicide in Henry James's Fiction." (1986). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 4303.