Psychical Phenomena and the Body in the Late Novels of Henry James
Supervisor: Dr James Mussell
My thesis focuses on the connections between fin de siècle accounts of psychical phenomena and the extraordinary bodily capabilities of the characters in Henry James’s late novels. In reaction to the scholarly commonplace that these characters are simply refined out of corporeal existence, I posit the alternative that their bodies are unconventionally constituted: hyperaesthetic like the Society for Psychical Research’s ‘sensitives’, or materially reconfigured like the ‘etheric bodies’ of the dead envisioned by Sir Oliver Lodge, and thus perfectly adapted for life in the phantasmagorical world of James’s ‘major-phase’ and beyond. Against the backdrop of recent scholarly work on the material world of James’s novels by Thomas Otten, Victoria Coulson and others, and theories of embodiment such as those of Didier Anzieu, I assert the importance of fin de siècle psychical research narratives of the hyperextension of human bodily capabilities and their historical collocates in art, literature, and occult philosophy to fully excavate the cultural work with which Henry James’s late novels are involved.
Previously, I completed my undergraduate degree in English at the University, before returning to take an MPhil in Literature and Modernity for which I wrote a thesis exploring the tripartite relationship between telepathy, the visual and Henry James’ novels.
My research is funded by a three year College of Arts and Law scholarship, and is due to be completed in 2012.