Alan Hollinghurst and the Vitality of Influence
This research was funded by a Bonamy Dobrée Award from the University of Leeds from 2007-2010.
This thesis considers the unsettling and unsettled portrayal of textual influence in the work of contemporary British author Alan Hollinghurst. Moving away from Harold Bloom’s portrayal of influence as a function of violence and abnegation, this work seeks to portray the vitality and productive capacity of influence as mobilized in Hollinghurst’s fiction. Preexisting models of literary influence are built upon an understanding of influence as a function of a biological timeline, of the progression through stages of birth, growth, reproduction, and death. What has been curiously avoided by literary theory in general, however, is an evaluation of the specific energies of influence interlacing gay narratives. This extraordinary critical gap should surely be viewed as dependent upon the inherent rejection, made by queer theory, of not simply Bloom’s determining metaphors of fatherhood and immorality, but of the fantasy of futurity that models of literary influence implicitly enforce.
In order to reconcile preexisting models of literary influence with the nature of modern gay narratives, this thesis draws extensively upon recent work in the areas of memetics and queer temporality. By contextualizing the meme as the unit of transmission most resolvable in the anachronies of queer time, this thesis seeks to approach the representational effect of the influences portraying themselves in Hollinghurst’s fiction, and the vitality enacted when such material flows into a subsequent text. Through chapters on each of Hollinghurst’s four novels, this thesis explores the four premises of timeliness destabilized by queer narratives of influence: sequence, lateness, impermanence, and ekphrasis.
This work offers original contributions to knowledge in two ways. Firstly, it represents, what is to my knowledge, the first sustained piece of criticism on Hollinghurst’s full body of work, taking into account not only his first four novels and newspaper journalism, but also the wide and sometimes surprising body of historical books, films, operas, buildings, and magazines with which his work engages. And, secondly, through its reconsideration of the teleological objectives of twentieth-century models of literary influence, this thesis hopes to extend the current dialogue on queer temporality. Through this, it hopes to identify the significance that such a dialogue holds for practical approaches to readings of literary influence.