Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
James's autobiographies differ from most by dramatizing so extensively the process of recovery and reanimation of memory, the act that signifies autobiographical activity. They therefore reveal a great deal about the generic nature of autobiographical recollection. James's Major Phase, from 1900 to his death in 1916, was chiefly and gloriously autobiographical in purpose and crowns his career with an autobiographical production of astonishing variety, extent, and creativity. The proto-autobiographical material includes biography of a culture (William Wetmore Story and His Friends), travel memoir and cultural analysis (The American Scene), and recapitulation and intimate disclosure of his creative life (the Prefaces of the New York Edition). The proto-autobiographical phase is marked by bookend fiction projects, The Sense of the Past and "The Jolly Corner," that dramatize the agony of recollection and the fear of reanimating the past, thereby giving James models of the recollective process in a safer fictive form. The proto-autobiographies enabled him to put into play the methods of self-referentiality and even to consider the motives for autobiography. I argue that autobiography is often most revealing about the present moment and the act of writing. Henry James is significantly useful for the study of this process of autobiography; to an extent unmatched by most autobiographers, he dramatizes the present struggle of recollection. He also gives significant prominence to the father, a figure to be accounted for somehow in any autobiography. Nowhere are James's anxieties in greater force than in the "obscure hurt" passage of his autobiography, which deals curiously and obscurely with his choice of literature rather than service in the Civil War. By exploiting a hitherto overlooked discovery, that James was drafted and was exempted for "various complaints," I am able to shed new light on the processes and motives for autobiographical silences and misrepresentation. His process of arranging memories in accord with affective content enables an unexpected reading of his father taking him to Mrs. Cannon's house; a place that biography calls a boarding house becomes by autobiographical context a brothel.
Nielsen, Paul S., "Henry James and the Process of Autobiography." (1995). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 5972.