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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The political Thomas Hardy : a study of the Wessex novels and comparison with Boris Pasternak Cobley, John R.


This thesis puts forward the case for a political reading of Thomas Hardy's Wessex Novels. Although the political aspects of these novels cannot be seen as his main preoccupation, it is argued that an awareness of the political motivation of Hardy is necessary for a proper and responsible reading. Through biographical and textual material, and through a comparison of Hardy with Boris Pasternak, it can be shown that a consistent political theme runs through the Wessex novels from the beginning to the end. The main reason why this political theme has not been generally appreciated is attributed to a misconception about Hardy's role as a novelist. For too long Hardy has been popularly described as a defender of the peasant or rustic. In fact, Hardy's interest was with those people who were just above the lowest class. Since he was himself from this slightly higher class, he was naturally sensitive to their difficulties in social improvement. Hardy therefore attacked the systems in society that protected the wealth and power for the middle and upper classes at the expense of the poorer people. The first chapter follows Hardy's early career both as an architect in London, where he developed strong political views that tended towards socialism, and as an aspiring novelist in a market which would not accept expression of those political views. The early novels show evidence of his suppressed political anger as Hardy lapses into outbursts of bitter social satire. The satire disappears after The Hand of Ethelberta when the novels complete a gradual movement towards tragedy. This meant that the discord between the early novels' general optimism and his political anger was eliminated. As a harmonious part of the later novels, Hardy's political attitudes are not so easily discerned. For this reason a special critical approach is needed. The second chapter compares Hardy's novels and political views with those of Boris Pasternak. Pasternak's poetic political novel provides a model for analysing the later more poetic Wessex Novels. Utilising the genre of the "lyrical novel," it is shown how the poet-novelist often pays less attention to narrative development and concentrates on shaping his central concerns within a symbolic structure. The third chapter makes a political reading of Tess of the D'Urbervilles based on the political attitudes established in the first chapter, and on the techniques of the lyrical novel defined in the second. The consistency of Hardy's political views in the Wessex Novels becomes apparent as the same concerns of the early novels are found through an analysis of the novel's symbolic structure.

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