Thomas Hardy and the Law: Legal Presences in Hardy's Life and Fiction

Thomas Hardy and the Law: Legal Presences in Hardy's Life and Fiction

Thomas Hardy and the Law: Legal Presences in Hardy's Life and Fiction

Thomas Hardy and the Law: Legal Presences in Hardy's Life and Fiction

Synopsis

"Thomas Hardy and the Law argues that Hardy's extensive legal research and experience drove his writing of fiction throughout his career. The book studies Hardy's legal research and friendships, his work as a Dorchester magistrate, actual Victorian law cases from which he drew novel material, nineteenth-century legal reform, the legal "machinery" of the novels, and Hardy's position as an advocate for the reform of the marriage laws. Legal-fictional issues analyzed in the book's five chapters include civil marriage, sham marriage, rape, seduction, marital desertion, divorce, adultery and murder investigations, legal inquests, bigamous marriages, matrimonial cruelty, and wife-sale. These issues are grouped into chapters that study the progress of human relationships from their beginnings to their ends. Throughout his fiction, Hardy offers a representation of life - particularly female life - as an evolving legal spectacle, one in which the law enables yet also interferes with human plans in the earlier fiction and eventually "prescribes" human life in the later works." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This study of Hardy's use of the law began with a threat of PROSecution. Specifically, my interest in the subject began when I read the Graphic serial version of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and found at the end of a weekly number Joan Durbeyfield’s threat to prosecute Alec d’Urberville for tricking Tess into taking part in a sham marriage. Following Tess’s account of the “marriage,” Joan says to Tess, “But he can be prosecuted for this” (td 2: 136). Although Hardy intended the threat—and the weekly installment of his novel—to end there, Joan’s statement seemed to open the discussion of the law’s place in the episode rather than to close it once and for all. and Tess’s response to her mother—“O, no—say nothing! … It will do me more harm than leaving it alone” (td 2: 136)—hinted at one possible direction that a such a discussion might take. a central question kept surfacing during my reading of the novel and in classroom discussions of the revised novel that Hardy had sent to the Graphic: Could Alec have been prosecuted? in other words, was Joan’s statement legally accurate, and was Hardy alluding to laws and procedures intended to prohibit or punish what Alec had done? Knowing the high value that Hardy placed on verisimilitude, I assumed that the answer to both questions was “yes.” Inevitably, these questions then led to others. To me, the most important of these questions at the outset of this study, as well as now, concerned why Tess and her mother do not prosecute Alec for arranging the sinister, and illegal, sham marriage. Why do the two women not proceed with the legal action that Joan apparently knows something about and so readily mentions as the logical next step to take in such a situation?

Joan’s threat suggested to me that Hardy’s scene must have emerged at some point during the revision of Tess from out of some legal background, one that Hardy was well aware of, and I set out to find that background and to answer the questions that I had concerning the scene. Edward Sampson’s seminal article on Hardy’s . . .

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