Myth Music & Modernism: How Wagner created the "modern" novel via Virginia Woolf and James Joyce

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 13 May 2012 | 7:47:00 pm

I found this PhD thesis over at the Rhodes University. I think most people are aware of the influence that Wagner has had on literature and there have been many academic studies thereof, however, this one is a little different. It pays especial attention to the manner in which the "....the philosophical content of Wagner's dramas: a revolutionary form of romanticism that calls into question the very nature of the world, its most radical component being Schopenhauer's version of transcendental idealism" and how, in Woolf and Joyce we have, according to the author, "...the "translation" of Wagnerian ideas into novelistic form (demonstrating) how they might be applied in "real life". In Mrs Dalloway, the figure of Septimus can be read as partly modelled on Wagner's heroes Siegfried and Tristan, two outstanding examples of the opposing heroic types found throughout his oeuvre, whose contrasting attributes are fused in Septimus's bipolar personality.".

Perhaps an overly simplistic introduction but it will do. Not that unreadable for a PhD Thesis - although I must admit having only skimmed it at present. 250 pages in total can be read or downloaded in PDF directly from the University by clicking the link below. I also provide the abstract below - it reads a little better than the abstract would suggest so you might want to check out the full document.


McGregor, J. A. (2009) Myth, music and modernism : the Wagnerian dimension in Virginia Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" and "The Waves" and James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake". PhD thesis, Rhodes University. 

The study of Wagner's influence on the modernist novel is an established field with clear room for further contributions. Very little of the criticism undertaken to date takes full cognizance of the philosophical content of Wagner's dramas: a revolutionary form of romanticism that calls into question the very nature of the world, its most radical component being Schopenhauer's version of transcendental idealism. The compatibility of this doctrine with Wagner's earlier work, with its already marked privileging of myth over history, enabled his later dramas, consciously influenced by Schopenhauer, to crown a body of work greater than the sum of its parts. In works by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, the "translation" of Wagnerian ideas into novelistic form demonstrates how they might be applied in "real life". In Mrs Dalloway, the figure of Septimus can be read as partly modelled on Wagner's heroes Siegfried and Tristan, two outstanding examples of the opposing heroic types found throughout his oeuvre, whose contrasting attributes are fused in Septimus's bipolar personality. The Wagnerian pattern also throws light on Septimus's transcendental "relationship" with a woman he does not even know, and on the implied noumenal identity of seemingly isolated individuals. In The Waves, the allusions to both Parsifal and the Ring need to be reconsidered in light of the fact that these works' heroes are all but identical (a fact overlooked in previous criticism); as Wagner's solar hero par excellence, Siegfried is central to the novel's cyclical symbolism. The Waves also revisits the question of identity but in a more cosmic context – the metaphysical unity of everything. In Finnegans Wake, the symbolism of the cosmic cycle is again related to the Ring, as are Wagner's two heroic types to the Shem / Shaun opposition (the Joyce / Woolf parallels here have also been overlooked in criticism to date). All three texts reveal a fascination with the two contrasting faces of a Wagnerian hero who embodies the dual nature of reality, mirroring in himself the eternal rise and fall of world history and, beyond them, the timeless stasis of myth.