AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Candour and controversy : the representation of female characters in "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" and "Jude the obscure".

by Ruth Ingvild Berg

Institution: University of Oslo
Year: 1000
Keywords: VDP::020
Record ID: 1280183
Full text PDF: https://www.duo.uio.no/handle/10852/25461


In this thesis I provide an analysis of the representation of women in the works of Thomas Hardy, with special focus on the female characters in Tess of the d Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). The main focus of this thesis is on Hardy s female characters, in order to see to what extent they can be said to have contributed to a new understanding of women and of female protagonists in the novel towards the end of the nineteenth century. The aim is to examine how an author such as Hardy subtly began to criticise and oppose society s preconceived and rigid views of women and female behaviour. In his novels, Hardy depicts a variety of female protagonists and supporting characters with very different personalities and agendas, as well as demonstrating how these women, some of whom are more conventionally Victorian than others, find very different outlets for their opposition to societal conventions. This constitutes a central feature of Hardy s social critique. Through an analysis of the portrayals of Tess, Sue and Arabella, and by comparing and contrasting them, I examine Hardy s female portraits and demonstrate how they emerge as ambivalent and inconsistent characters. I also examine Hardy s attitudes towards criticism and censorship, as well as the conditions of publication in the late nineteenth century. By shedding light on Hardy s operations within the literary field and through an examination of the constraints and prerequisites that applied to literary production at the time, it is hoped that I have provided a deeper analysis and understanding of Hardy s female portrayals. Hardy was struggling to free himself from the constraints of the themes and topics of the conventional novel, while both he and the novel as a genre were under a lot of pressure. Trough my analysis, I discuss how Hardy was attempting to renew the genre, while maintaining the same form, but with, in his own words, more true or lifelike representations, and with themes which were perceived as provocative and immoral. His approach and method was to find a middle course between his own agenda and that which would be approved, published and bought by the publishers and circulating libraries. More importantly, through his attempts at being truthful in his character representations, Hardy demonstrated what he saw as the need for more candidness in the treatment of moral and social issues in literature. Hardy therefore chose to give some radical and unconventional characteristics to each of his female protagonists, while at the same time equipping them with a number of traditional values. Through this technique, he creates credible characters who defy cultural conventions, but who also appeal to the sympathies of his contemporary readership. What can be described as the essence of Hardy s literature, his main literary aim, is for the author to be uninhibited and truthful in his representations of life and people.