The Afterlife of the Muse. Balzac, Henry James, Fontane

The muses are considered to be an ancient condition for narrative. That they lead an afterlife in the novels of Balzac, Henry James, and Fontane shows their continued poetic significance for modernity. The project examines novels that are committed to the modern narrative paradigm of realistic mimesis and yet place the figure of the muse at the center of their diegesis. With reference to Aby Warburg's concept of the afterlife of antiquity and Blumenberg's theory of the novel, the project elucidates to what extent the muses retain their poetic power beyond the strengthening of the author's personality and to what extent they have remained virulent in modern prose as perhaps the first answer to the question of the origin of literary productivity. Individual analyses reveal the transformation processes that the ancient goddesses of the arts have undergone on their long journey into modernity and thereby elaborate on the poetic significance of the muses both for the respective novel and for the 19th-century paradigm of realistic narrative. In this way, the study shows how the muse introduces her poietic potential into the modern text, thus proving to be the crystallization point of the novel's poetics.

Fig. above: Giulio Romano: The Apollon Dance with the Muses (approx. 540), Source: Wikimedia Commons, The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2019
Head researcher(s): Annalisa Fischer