The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture, and Women in Thomas Hardy's Fiction

The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture, and Women in Thomas Hardy's Fiction

The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture, and Women in Thomas Hardy's Fiction

The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture, and Women in Thomas Hardy's Fiction

Synopsis

This timely book treats Hardy's recurring use of one of the major informing myths of Western culture--that of a collision between a solar god and an earth goddess. Stave uses a chronological examination of Hardy's Wessex novels to highlight the author's evolving consciousness of the connections among patriarchy, Christianity, sexism, and classism. From the gentle affirmation of Far From the Madding Crowd to the grim Jude the Obscure, Stave paints a world in which the goddess figures die out, displaced by messianic gods, and a Pagan worldview gives way to a world devoid of spiritual meaning.

Excerpt

It has become commonplace to approach the novels of Thomas Hardy with the underlying assumption of a tension between agrarian and industrial ways of life. Recently, theoretical distrust of dualism has shifted the emphasis in Hardy criticism away from an overt exploration of this topic; however, it remains impossible to treat the Wessex novels without some discussion of a rapidly fading rural way of life encroached upon by "modern" society. Thus, it may be valuable to reconsider the earlier critical focus, bringing a religio-spiritual concern to the surface-level duality of agrarianism vs. industrialism. In doing so, the readily apparent tension between two ways of life in collision during Victorian England manifests a deeper tension, one that resonates mythically and thereby transcends the boundaries of time and geography. From an archetypal perspective, the struggle between two irreconcilable world views that Hardy repeatedly presents becomes one of the ancient stories, one particularly significant for its implications for gender and social class.

Reading Hardy from the theoretical perspective of myth criticism is also nothing new; Hardy's obvious use of myth throughout his novels invites such an examination. However, leaving behind the allusive use of myth in Hardy, which has been treated thoroughly in Marlene Springer Hardy's Use of Allusion, one can seewithin the Wessex novels a systemic use of myth that does more than associate certain characters with Greco-Roman or Celtic deities, more than occasionally echo a hero's journey or a sacrificial act. Taken as a whole, the Wessex novels can be read as a repeated exploration of one of the oldest myths of culture, that of a Sky God interacting with an Earth Goddess. However, Hardy's typical association of the Sky God figure with the Christian triune God, particularly in his messianic aspect, makes it possible to narrow the scope of Hardy's use of myth and find the archetype informing Hardy's work within the Bible itself. The Old Testament records an ongoing struggle between Yahweh, the god of the children of Israel and precursor to the Christian god, and Ashtaroth, the agricultural goddess who lost her power as a result of being displaced by those wandering tribes. Hardy fuses that myth with the New Testament's messianic narrative, often depicting the antagonist of the Great . . .

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