Date of Degree
English Language and Literature
This dissertation examines the use of silence in Henry James's novel The Ambassadors. James uses silence rich in meaning to portray the protagonist Lewis Lambert Strether's unfolding consciousness. James creates different types of silences that reflect a shift from the spoken or written word to alternate symbol systems. James's novel perches on the threshold of modernity, as his work reflects the ideas of a line of thinkers extending back from James and his brother, William, to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sampson Reed, and Emanuel Swedenborg. At the same time, the novel draws on the contemporary ideas of Charles Darwin, prefigures modern narrative techniques, and even anticipates such current neuroscience theorists as Gerald Edelman and Antonio Damasio. Chapter one is an overview which contextualizes the novel, considering its link to Emersonian thought as well as to William James's description of consciousness, theories of silence, and Darwin's examination of the development of language in The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Chapter two considers the remnants of language and symbol systems, with the silences, language as thing, resonance, and syntax explored. A close reading of the novel demonstrates the artificiality and concreteness of language, with James ultimately moving away from those remnants. Chapter three incorporates the current field of acoustic communication with an analysis of vagueness, impression, and charged silence as Strether searches them for what Wallace Stevens would term the "unalterable vibration", or meaning. Chapter four charts the movement to physical representations of Strether's consciousness emerging in moments of what James calls "responsive arrest", and Strether's awareness after a fact, examined in relation to current work by Edelman and Damasio. Chapter five describes James's movement to silences that reflect physical expression. Gesture, meeting of eyes, and recognition reflect an awareness of Darwin's view of the development of language from its physical and gestural nature. James develops an alternative to articulated language that portrays Strether as an emerging modern figure whose consciousness is attained through silence.
Meyer, Marie Leone, "Henry James’s "The Ambassadors": Anatomy of Silence" (2006). CUNY Academic Works.