Term of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Department

Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

John Thomas Lloyd

Committee Member 1

Douglas Thomson

Committee Member 2

Marc Cyr

Abstract

The tragic outcomes of most of his fictional heroines have led many to accuse Thomas Hardy of being a misogynist, harshly punishing women for their open defiance of Victorian social expectations. However, by writing about sexually-charged issues at a time when subjects such as premarital sex, rape, illegitimate children, adultery, and divorce were taboo, Hardy challenged his readers to consider the destructive power caused by hypocrisy and double standards, making many consider him to be among the first feminists. These conflicting perspectives reflect the internal ambiguities of a gifted man torn between wanting to maintain the conservative comfort of the Victorian era while yearning for the more equitable freedom of the Modern era. Spanning the course of six decades, the literary works of Thomas Hardy note the evolution of the New Woman, particularly in his novels. From the accepting and submissive Cythera Graye in his first book to the questioning and defiant Sue Bridehead in his last written novel, Hardy documented the growth of the independent woman, as well as her struggles for acceptance and unconditional love. Though his heroines become stronger and more determined with each novel, Hardy maintains a consistency in their natures, indicating an essentialist view. All of his female characters are inherently passive, a trait that makes them vulnerable, though not inferior. Hardy worked to reconcile his adherence in the belief of a natural difference between men and women while advocating for equality between them. A close examination of the fictional heroines in his major novels, a study on his personal experience, philosophy, and the perspective of a woman who knew him demonstrate that Thomas Hardy did not hate women; he hated the artifice of contrived relationships. A selfdescribed meliorist, Hardy held hope for a better world but feared society was leaving itself without a future with the oppressive treatment of women. Though quiet and reserved in his personal life, Thomas Hardy loved intelligent, strong-minded women, but he feared the potential power of the emerging New Woman figures as much as he feared a world without them.

Share

COinS