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Theses Doctoral

The Wagnerian Novel: Iterations of the Gesamtkunstwerk in Prose

Rhodes, Jennifer Gillespie

This dissertation traces Richard Wagner’s influence on the twentieth century Western European novel. Through a close reading of three monumental works: Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Il fuoco (1900), Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927), and Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus: The story of the German composer Adrian Leverkühn, as told by a friend (1947), I argue that Wagner’s artistic and theoretical legacy helps set the course for modernist prose. By investigating the vast webs of intertextual references present in these works, this project examines how novelists manipulate multimedia collage, autobiographical incursion, and narrative silence to replicate the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or “Total Work of Art” both championed by Richard Wagner in his early theoretical manifesti and deployed, in evolving ways, throughout the composer’s life. I argue that, rather than creating simple allusions to the Wagnerian ideal across media, d’Annunzio, Proust, and Mann strive to reproduce the full spectrum of Wagner’s biographical and operatic spectacle within the confines of the printed page. In so doing, they pioneer revolutionary prose techniques that bring Wagner’s innovations to an audience far beyond the walls of the opera house.


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Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Leake, Elizabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
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