Date of Award

1991

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

School

School of Community and Language Studies

Abstract

This analysis will focus on the perceived harmony or disjunction between Hardy's representation of women in his fiction, and the middle class ideologies of gender difference and sexuality during what is referred to as the Victorian period, roughly the 1840s to the 1880s. The parameters of the dominant middle class ideology are established, as certain ideas will be held to be predominant or widely accepted at a given time. The aim of this thesis is to ascertain to what extent Hardy subverts the dominant ideology, and how he is involved in contesting the conventional contemporary representations of women. Part of this analysis will also describe the ways in which Hardy succumbs to the demands of the ideology and is unable to break free from the circumscribed artistic limits of the nineteenth-century novel. One of the thesis' tasks is to examine how Hardy traverses the enormous gap between Victorian domestic ideology and the realities of everyday life. The ideals and contradictions of the sexual and social ideologies of the time will be examined as they influence both the presentation and the contesting of stereotypical images of women in the two novels. The thesis examines Hardy's treatment of the emotional, sexual and intellectual conflicts within the institution of marriage, and his concentration on marital breakdown and sexual discord. Hardy's portrayal of the physical nature of women is a significant part of the thesis. An analysis of Victorian middle and upper class perceptions of female physiology is undertaken to outline the contemporary gender differentiation and attitudes to sexuality of the periodMany of the often erroneous assumptions about and stereotypes of women of the time will be noted, as they influence Hardy's portrayals as well as his rebuttals of the contemporary ideals. The thesis examines how Hardy deals with the conflict that often arose between women's prescribed roles and their desire for freedom and selfhood. It also analyses Hardy's rejection of the stereotypes of sexuality and the 'double standard' of the time. His presentation of sexually exciting women and his condemnation of the ideology that denies autonomy and independence to women is examined to determine the extent of his commitment to these ideas. The thesis considers Hardy's level of acceptance of the dominant ideology, and highlights the ways in which he is able to expose the artificiality of the separate spheres whilst simultaneously perpetuating many of the assumptions, stereotypes and ideals of the ideology. It looks at the effects of the unresolvable dilemmas in his novels, the ways in which he attempts to provide alternative solutions to those prescribed by the ideology.

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