Tragic Pattern of Hardy’s Female Characters: Externality of Ideology Contradiction Proposal Thomas Hardy, known as one of the most important literary figures in Victorian Age, holds a significant position in English literary history. Dale Kramer once claimed that, “it is fair and accurate to say that, apart from Dickens, no novelist’s writing in English has appealed to so many different readers for so many differing reasons. (Kramer, 1979: 2) Hardy is highly known for his adeptness in portrayal of characters, especially female characters. However, his own gender construct and stereotypes of his time makes his work, as well as his heroines, a rich source of controversies for literary critics. Clearly, his female characters, from the strong-minded Bathsheba to the more intellectual Sue, all have to depend on the men, renounce their own will and finally become subordinate to men.
And it is noticeable that heroines in his main works all suffer the same fate: they try to break away from the conventional moral code, as a result of the awakening of selfhood, and pursue a relatively independent life, but all end in ruin, either physically or psychologically, which is doomed right from the start. We can read between the lines that Hardy had great sympathy for women in his time and was gratified to see their awakening, but in all his main works he arranged a similar tragic pattern for them. That explains why most controversial issues in recent Hardy criticism concern his attitudes toward women.
No consensus has been reached yet in whether or not Hardy was in favor of feminism and why he created such tragic pattern for female characters in his novels. The present essay is to identify and critique significant pattern in Thomas Hardy’s portrayal of female characters in four of his major novels:Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, Tess of d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, and aims to explore the objective and subjective forces which can explain the pattern whereby Hardy’s heroines are bewildered in their quest for selfhood and eventually are ruined by the dominant social discourse.
Many critics have argued about Hardy’s portrayal of female characters from diverse perspectives. Virginia Woolf noted a basic distinction in Hardy’s depiction of female and male characters: “However loveable and charming Bathsheba may be, still she is weak;however stubborn and ill-guided Henchard may be, still he is strong. This is a fundamental part of Hardy’s vision;the staple of many of his books. The woman is the weaker and the fleshier, and she clings to the stronger and obscures his vision (Woolf, 1928: 250). Kristin Brady contends that Thomas Hardy’s most powerful attack on Victorian social conventions is also his most emphatic endorsement of the biological determinism in nineteenth century gender ideology. She suggests that Hardy subconsciously championed the biological differences between two sexes: “the narrator’s construction of the New Woman leads only to his own hysterical reversal, in which the new woman becomes all intensified version of the ‘Old Woman’ of nineteenth century scientific, aesthetic and moral discourse (Brady, 1999: 99). Most critics agree that Hardy could not completely break free from the women stereotypes abundant in English literary history. Patricia Stubbs in his Women and Fiction said that “Hardy’s central contradiction consists of modern, feminist consciousness and his acceptance of conventional male literary character-stereotypes for women--thus belying his ultimate containment within patriarchal ideology (Stubbs, 1979: 58)”.
It is true that Hardy cares deeply about women and their living conditions, but by virtue of his gender, Hardy is still imprisoned in the inherent patriarchal ideology and fails to make any transgression in depiction at length. Failing to recognize this hidden force, Hardy himself attributes the failure and ruin of all of his major female characters to the insurmountable conflicts between character and the environment.
Studying how the women are constructed and re-defined in his novels can shed light on the forces at work during the creative process and help us understand both the author’s attitudes toward women and his time, thus we can have a relatively precise comprehension of his works, as well as ideas and belief in which he intended to convey. This essay focuses on four female characters portrayed by Hardy in his novels: Tess Durbeyfield in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure, Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, and Eustacia Vye in The Return of Native.
Combined with that detailed study of Hardy’s four novels, a close reading of literature concerning Hardy’s works and personal life serves as the method to tackle the research problems. 1. Introduction 2. Female characters in Hardy’s Four Novels 1. Tess Durbeyfield 2. Sue Bridehead 3. Eustacia Vye 4. Bathsheba Everdene 3. Social Background 1. British Women’s Status in Victorian Age 2. Typical Images of Women in the novels of Victorian Age 3. Feminist Movement in British 4. Hardy’s Personal Life 1. Women in Hardy’s Life and Their Influence on His Works 2.
Hardy’s Religious Belief 5. Hardy’s Ideology 1. Hardy’s Gender Construct 2. Hardy and Phallocentrism 3. Hardy and Feminist 4. Victorian Angelogy 6. Conclusion 1. Conclusion 2. Limitations of the present essay Sufficient library research and literature review will be done from September to October in 2011. Then under the guidance of the teacher, the final topic of this essay will be determined from several relevant options. Before the end of February in 2012, the first draft will be submitted to the teacher for suggestions and necessary alterations.
In the following months the draft will be refined and revised until it meets the teacher’s requirement and is up to the standard of qualified essays. The final version will be submitted before April in 2012.
Bibliography -Geoffrey, Harvey. The Complete Critical Guide to Thomas Hardy. London: Routledge, 2002. -Howe, Irving. Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1985. -Kramer, Dale. Thomas Hardy. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education, 2000. -Kramer, Dale. Critical Approaches to the Fictions of Thomas Hardy. London: the Macmillan, 1979. Stubbs, Patricia. Women and Fiction: Feminism and the Novel. London: Methuen, 1979. -Williams, Merryn. A Preface to Hardy. Beijing: Beijing University, 2005. -Woolf, Virginia. Novels and Novelists. Shanghai: Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 2000. -Wu Di. New Studies in Thomas Hardy. Zhejiang: Zhejiang University, 2009. -???. ???????????. ?? :??????? ,1999. -???. ????????. ?? : ???? , 2008 -???. ?????? :?????????????. ?? :????????? ,2009. -??? ,???. ??????????. ?? :????????? ,2007. -???. ??????????. ?? :?????????? ,1987.