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Primitive Feminism in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles

From the publication of his first novels Hardy's critics accused him of being overly pessimistic about humanity's place in the scheme of things. In , Hardy expressed the notion that "non-rationality seems. Ironically the blind forces of 'Hap' seem to favour certain characters while they relentlessly pursue those who deserve better, such as Tess, as well as those whose ends we might regard as proof of Nemesis or Poetic Justice Sergeant Troy in Far from the Madding Crowd , Lucetta in The Mayor of Casterbridge , and Alec in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

An entry in Hardy's notebook dated April gives us a clue to the guiding principle behind his fiction:. A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions. In Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy , Rosemarie Morgan provides an interesting footnote to Hardy's handling of Nemesis in Tess : Hardy's 'sadistic tale' does, of course, mete out punishment in equal measure: the fallen woman's true love is brought home from his 'Brazil' 'a mere yellow skeleton' condemned to live out his days with a 'spiritualized Tess' whom he may love but may not marry.

See 'The Deceased Wife's Sister Bill', which, after a lengthy passage through Parliament was finally passed in enabling the widowed partner to wed his sister-in-law. Angel could not, therefore, lawfully wed Tess's sister.

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These tremendous emotions experienced by Hardy's powerful and elemental characters are in contrast to the placid, accepting natures of the lesser mortals whom we meet in the taverns of Casterbridge, around bonfires , and harvesting in the fields. Critics generally feel that Hardy intends these rustics to be taken as "the symbol of the great majority of humdrum mortals," a chorus in the original Greek sense that "gives the reader a standard of normality by which he can gauge the.

Like the great tragedies of fifth-century Athens and Elizabethan England, Hardy's Novels of Character and Environment convey a strong sense of fatalism, a view that in life human actions have been predetermined, either by the very nature of things, or by God, or by Fate. Hardy dramatized his conception of destiny in human affairs as the Imminent Will in his poetry, especially in his poetic drama of the Napoleonic wars, The Dynasts. By his emphasis on chance and circumstance in the plots of his stories Hardy consistently suggests that human will is not free but fettered.

In both Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Under the Greenwood Tree , for example, he employs chance coincidence as more than a mere device of plotting. In The Mayor of Casterbridge , Hardy seems to apply the concept of 'Fortune's False Wheel' which Chaucer discusses at length in "The Monk's Tale" and to which Shakespeare alludes many times in King Lear to the rise and fall of Michael Henchard: starting as a poor hay-trusser with a drinking problem, he renounces alcohol and works his way up to become the town's leading corn factor and mayor, only to undergo a startling series of reversals and end life an outcast.

The conclusion of the former, however, is not entirely happy, while the latter's ending with the marriage of the enigmatic Diggory Venn and the pathetic Thomasin was the consequence of Hardy's modifying his original plan to satisfy the readers of his serial version. This feeling of the constant attrition, and final obliteration, of the human shape and all human structures, permeates Hardy's work.

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Interviewed about Stonehenge he commented that "it is a matter of wonder that the erection has stood so long," adding however that "time nibbles year after year" at the structure Tony Tanner, "Colour and Movement in Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles ," The Victorian Novel: Essays in Criticism : In contrast to 'grand' ruins both inanimate and human, a minor and more normative character such as publican of the Three Mariners, Mrs. Stannidge, has a more even life; yet is the jovial inn-keeper really more fortunate for not having been tested by experience?

Hardy like Milton could "not praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue. A well-proportioned mind is one which shows no particular bias; one of which we may safely say that it will never cause its owner to be confined as a madman. Like Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy attempted in his fiction to comment on the macrocosm of the human race through an intense study of a microcosm well known to him, the rural society of nineteenth-century 'Wessex', where, from time to time, dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passion and closely-knit inter-dependence of the lives therein.

Woodlanders , I. Hardy attempts to record such customs as the mumming in The Return of the Native and the skimmington in The Mayor of Casterbridge , and such superstitions as the fetishistic wax doll in RoN , for these folk-ways were being swiftly destroyed, along with the old folk-lore and orally-transmitted ballads and tales, by education, migration, and printed books and papers.

Complementing his minor roles as folklorist and anthropologist, Hardy was very much the social critic. In his fiction, not only natural forces such as the adverse weather that assists in ruining Michael Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge but also human society seem bent on crushing the sensitive and imaginative individual.

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Society inflicts its gratuitous suffering through exercising outworn conventions and superficial values, as well as through the new age's emphasis on efficiency. The "passionless permanence" of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native and the Roman antiquities of The Mayor of Casterbridge contrast with futile and pitifully brief human existence. In the novels of Thomas Hardy, time moves rhythmically, in seasons and ages, rather than mechanically, according to watch and even calendar.

As a realist, Hardy felt that art should describe and comment upon actual situations, such as the heavy lot of the rural labourers and the bleak lives of oppressed women. Though the Victorian reading public tolerated his depiction of the problems of modernity, it was less receptive to his religious scepticism and criticism of the divorce laws.

His public and critics were especially offended by his frankness about relations between the sexes, particularly in his depicting the seduction of a village girl in Tess , and the sexual entrapment and child murders of Jude. The passages which so incensed the late Victorians the average twentieth-century reader is apt to miss because Hardy dealt with delicate matters obliquely.

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The modern reader encounters the prostitutes of Casterbridge's Mixen Lane without recognizing them, and concludes somewhat after the 'Chase' scene in Tess that it was then and there that the rape occurred. In Hardy's novels female principals differ from one another far less than do his male principals. The temperamental capriciousness of such characters as Fancy Day, Eustacia Vye, and Bathsheba Everdene arises from an immediate and instinctive obedience to emotional impulse without sufficient corrective control of reason.

Hardy's women rarely engage in such intellectual occupations as looking ahead. Of all of Hardy's women, surely it is Tess who has won the greatest respect for her strength of character and struggle to be treated as an individual. Herman notes, Tess rejects both the past and the future that threaten to "engulf" her in favour of "the eternal now" Explicator 18, 3: item no. Hardy's attitudes towards women were complex because of his own experiences.

Certainly the latter stages of his own marriage to Emma Lavinia Gifford must have contributed much to his somewhat equivocal attitudes.

Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy

On the one hand, Hardy praises female endurance, strength, passion, and sensitivity; on the other, he depicts women as meek, vain, plotting creatures of mercurial moods. As a young man, Hardy was easily infatuated, and easily wounded by rejection. Often he describes his bright and beautiful heroines, many drawn from such real-life figures as school-mistress Tryphena Sparks, at length: the blush of their cheeks, the arch of their eyebrows, their likeness to particular birds or flowers. Even modern female readers accept the truth of Hardy's female protagonists because, despite his implication that woman is the weaker sex, as Hardy remarked, "No woman can begrudge flattery.

Rarely do his minor female characters have either inner strength or spiritual power or physical beauty.


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He treats them with a fond irony, as with Bathsheba's maid Liddy in Far from the Madding Crowd , with her "womanly dignity of a diminutive order. Perhaps, as in The Well-Beloved , Hardy's chief female characters are based on the artist's personal conception of the feminine ideal. The quiet, shy, strong-minded, moral, and responsible Elizabeth-Jane of The Mayor of Casterbridge endures the trials of poverty, but is able to learn from bitter experience, even providing herself with an education in the classics, just as young Thomas Hardy, the former Dorchester architect's apprentice, had done.

The independently-minded Bathsheba of Far from the Madding Crowd is, in contrast to Elizabeth-Jane, a non-conformist because she tries to run her own farm and manage men; yet Hardy has her act with a spontaneity of feeling and feel at times inferior to men. However, the novelist reveals his sensitivity towards the situation of women in his society by showing Bathsheba's all-too-modern conflict between the desire for marriage and that for individuality and independence. In all of Hardy's great novels there are frustrating, imprisoning marriages that may reflect his own first marriage.

Though these relationships may seem almost 'sexless' to the modern reader, they are nevertheless quite believable. The novelist, united in holy acrimony for all but three of the thirty-eight years of his first marriage, clearly saw the need and argued eloquently for reasonable and human divorce laws. Unsuitable matches in his novels inevitably lead to suffering for both partners. Early in the same year which saw the death of Emma Hardy, the novelist expressed the opinion in Hearst's Magazine that "the English marriage laws are. Hardy put so much of himself into his fiction that it is hardly surprising he gave it up for poetry after the hostile reception of his last and greatest novels, Tess and Jude.

It was his cynical pessimism and social realism rather than his sympathy with his largely female protagonists that led him into difficulties. Hardy's heroes, like Clym and Jude and Henchard, are able to struggle actively with their destiny, form plans for opposing it, try to hew out a recognized place in the world. Jones' importance to the English theatre is clearly established: he brought new life, innovation and maturity to the nineteenth century stage.

In an appendix, the editor includes changes and revisions Jones made in the manuscript of The Silver King and examines the controversy regarding the authorship of the play raised by Henry Herman and Wilson Barrett, both of whom claimed considerable contribution to the content of the play. The editor clarifies the extent of the contribution of each.

This anthology is a useful and even-handed introduction to the work of Henry Arthur Jones. Henry F. Even when Hardy centers the novel on a male character, as in The Mayor of Casterbridge and in Jude the Obscure for instance, woman appears pivotal in the development of the narrative.

THOMAS HARDY AS A NOVELIST

This focus, perceived by his contemporaries more often than not as misogyny or at best antifeminism, is seen by Penny Boumelha in her book Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form AS A "Conscious Dialogue" by Hardy with "both feminist and antifeminist fiction" of his time. And contrary to many critics over the years since Hardy's contemporaries who perceived and generally categorized Hardy's women from either the persepctive of "victims" or from the opposing view of "sexual destroyers," Boumelha in her detailed and engaging study argues that Thomas Hardy's women resist "reduction to a single and uniform ideological position.

While the former contention that women are intrinsically necessary to an analysis of Hardy seems undeniable as well as self-evident, the latter is worth the detailed study which it gets from Boumelha. Arguing that the narrative not only reveals sexual ideology but also depends upon that ideology for its form, Boumelha supports her thesis in part by showing how Hardy changes his fiction from one mode to another in one novel after another on the basis of the contending sexual ideology.

While a pastoral mode controls and is controlled by the subjects of Under the Greenwood Tree, in later novels other modes of writing are demanded by the characters at the same time that those modes are vehicles for character portrayal. According to Boumelha, as Hardy's view of the sexual ideology of the female changes or is contradicted, "the pastoral is disrupted by tragedy Access options available:.

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