Ralph L. Wahlstrom, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of English
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Anthony Chase, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for School of Arts & Humanities
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Jennifer Ryan-Bryant, Associate Professor of English
This thesis closely examines Henry James’ years as a full-time dramatist. In 1889, with finances tightening due to poor book sales, James sought the financial successes of commercial playwriting by tapping into France’s nineteenth century idea of the well-made play. He also resolved to fundamentally change the British theater and save it from being, as he discusses in his literary criticism, a crude and unrefined hodgepodge that lacked discipline. From 1890 to 1895, James wrote a dramatized adaptation of The American (1890), as well as Tenants (1890), The Album (1891), The Reprobate (1891), The Disengaged (1892), and Guy Domville (1893), all plays he felt followed the well-made play ideology. Examining well-made play dramatic theory, the authors who made the well-made play great, and James’ plays show how he failed to follow the French style he lauded. Critical analysis also shows why the plays led to poor sales at the ticket office and, in several instances, a failure to find a manager willing to produce them. A close inspection of James’ letters and notebooks reveal a man who was overconfident of his dramatic abilities and, when criticized by accomplished playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, defended a method of craft whose roots were antithesis to the fundamentals of the well-made play. This failure to dramatize, coupled with Henrik Ibsen and Shaw’s sweeping changes to theater, pushed the well-made play, and James’ hope of any financial success, out of reach. The sobering effect of failure, however, would positively influence James’ later works.
Williams, Jeremy D., "The French Way: Henry James and the British Theater" (2017). English Theses. 22.
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