UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Blood wavering in uncertain flux and reflux" : reading the blush in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and A Pair of Blue Eyes Ball, Hilary


The two primary aims of this thesis are to position Thomas Hardy in a history of nineteenth-century literary blushing that has not, as of yet, included him, and to consider the extent to which his representations of blushing correspond with contemporaneous discussions of the embodied mind. Hardy’s longstanding interest in the extent to which external signs can communicate internal states and in the limitations of self-knowledge intersect with many of the questions about consciousness, bodies, and social environment central to nineteenth-century literary and scientific explorations of the blush. The 1870s in particular saw an exacerbation of interest in and conversation about the blush, related, in part, to the publication of Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals on 26 November 1872 — four months after Hardy started writing A Pair of Blue Eyes, and seven months before he began seriously working on Far from the Madding Crowd. By tracing representations of blushing throughout these two novels, my thesis reveals Hardy’s growing distrust of the blush’s revelatory capacity and his more pronounced emphasis on the biological mechanism as an object of investigation and anxiety. My chapter on A Pair of Blue Eyes considers what or how much a blush can say about interiority, drawing primarily on the literary tradition, while my chapter on Far from the Madding Crowd considers what the blush can say about the body, suggesting that Hardy engages more self-consciously here with the physiology of blushing and the sexual politics of observation and exposure. The representations of blushing in both novels, however, incorporate both literary and scientific traditions as they explore how bodies absorb and reproduce discourses and narratives that repress or exploit them and how they resist such coercions, proving uncooperative or unreadable.

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