The geography of silence: Women in landscape in Thomas Hardy's fiction
My dissertation considers the influence of nineteenth-century science and culture on the representations of women in Thomas Hardy's popular fiction. My research builds on recent Hardy scholarship on gender relations to examine the cultural and scientific developments of the period both that inform Hardy's experimental style of narration and that explain how his representations of women in some cases fascinated and offended his sophisticated reading public.
My opening chapter studies the responses of nineteenth-century literary journalists to Hardy's early novels as a critical influence on the formation of his experience narrative practices. This specialized audience developed divergent codes of realism, based on their own understandings of Victorian science and religion, in order to evaluate Hardy's first commercially successful work, Far from the Madding Crowd. In response to the criticisms of this audience, Hardy sought to complicate the experimental treatment of heroine in his later fiction.
My second chapter probes into the contribution of Hardy's first career as a Gothic architect to the style of representation in The Return of the Native. I study a little noticed allusion in Hardy's novel to the diorama. I argue that Hardy most likely gained an awareness of Gothic architecture, and I examine carefully the relation between his allusion to the diorama and a broad thematic interest with the science of reading her story.
My third chapter gives attention to the role of his architectural and professional backgrounds in informing his engagement with the developments of nineteenth-century sciences in Two on a Tower. I depart from other readings of the novel, by identifying not only allusions to Victorian astronomy but also references in the novel to the works of nineteenth-century scientists including Darwin and Cuvier.
In my fourth chapter, I observe closely the heroine's idiosyncratic speech patterns in Tess of the d'Urbervilles as indicative of Hardy's scientifically influenced preoccupation with the development of linguistic practices and literary traditions. At the close of my dissertation, I broaden my analysis to the relation between Hardy's seductive treatment of his heroine and those of other writers in the fin de siècle.