The Figures of Narcissus and Faust in Literature and Film
Johnson, Jill A.
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The legends and myths of the past continue to dominate cultural thought and shared storytelling. Two of the most key figures in these myths are Narcissus and Faust. They continue to dominate stories that are told. When looking at Faustian stories, I examine and bring to the fore the layered aspect of the Faust character. In my interpretation, Faust, the character and concept, is related to the other mythological figure: Narcissus. Establishing the connection between the myths of Narcissus and Faust in my first chapter, I show how this approach aids in interpreting Faust, especially as this character appears in other stories. In most tales Faust is a Narcissus, which directs certain aspects of his narrative. He will appeal to others with his described physical beauty, enthrall the other characters as Narcissus does, obsess over himself, and cause his own destruction. To investigate the connection between Faust and Narcissus, I examine four philosophical novels from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), and Klaus Mann’s Mephisto (1936); moreover, I focus on the ways these two myths influence the characters in each of these novels. I have selected these books because they are usually addressed vi by critics as solely philosophical. Many critics approach these books by looking at the abstract within the texts, treating them as novels of ideas. They focus almost exclusively on the philosophical, abstract behind the characters, often neglecting some of the concrete elements in the stories. I want to consider the characters of these stories from a different perspective. I focus on the representation of the characters’ (especially the main characters’) bodies. The central importance of the physical body to the myth of Narcissus necessitates this approach. The body of Narcissus, and by extension Faust, is what allows for Narcissus’ obsession and his destruction. Any story with this type of character present requires focus on the body. However, the representation of the character’s physical body is different in literature than in film. Along with the novels, I consider the film adaptations Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Branagh, 1994), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin, 1945), Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979), and Mephisto (Szabó, 1981). By looking at the adaptations, I more closely investigate the strategies of representation between these two mediums, which helps to show different aspects of both Faust and Narcissus. In this way, I analyze the films’ approach to the connection between these two myths.