A Case Study
Before exploring the textual connections between the two main figures examined in this chapter, Sir Leslie Stephen and Thomas Hardy, it would be well to outline briefly the critical approaches to those textsthat I will be utilizing, challenging, and interrogating: Harold Bloom’s theory of literary influence, and his more recent work on the Western literary canon. Bloom’s influence theory, first espoused in his 1973 text The Anxiety of Influence, explains his vision of the manner in which major poets gain aesthetic power. In this text, Bloom structures this struggle for artistic strength as a kind of hostile poetic takeover: the “later poet” of Bloom’s paradigm misreads and overwrites the text of his literary “precursor,” in order to “clear imaginative space” for himself (Bloom, Anxiety 5). To be a successful writer, a “major figure,” Bloom tells us that a poet must possess the “persistence to wrestle with [his] strong precursor, even to the death” (5). In Bloom’s reading, then, poets become “strong poets” via their engagement in psychic, agonizing combat with a literary “precursor.” At the level of the text, the “later poet” must go to extraordinary lengths to cover this debt, as he claims his “imaginative space” (5). Having done so, the later poet is free to command his own voice, although the diligent reader may still be able to trace the precursor’s influence upon the later figure’s works.
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