Thomas Hardy's Heroines: A Chorus of Priorities

Thomas Hardy's Heroines: A Chorus of Priorities

Thomas Hardy's Heroines: A Chorus of Priorities

Thomas Hardy's Heroines: A Chorus of Priorities


Thomas Hardy is known for his unconventional portrayal of female characters. In Victorian literature, his women are surprisingly complex, sexual, and even "heroic." Jekel's study discusses the development of Hardy's heroines, contrasts them with typical Victorian feminine standards, and compares them to the women who Hardy knew in his personal life.


"If you mean to make the world listen, you must say now what they will all be thinking and saying five and twenty years hence."

Thomas Hardy, in a letter to Florence Henniker, 1893

Despite an almost crusty reticence, Thomas Hardy did want the world to listen. Though he had a strong aversion to public display and an almost fanatic desire for concealment, his novels share a point of view which is consistently candid, self-revelatory, and vulnerable. He is sometimes clumsy, occasionally technically inept, and he seems at times to have written some of his best scenes subconsciously as he groped blindly for personal answers while he composed the final lines. Yet he is often, in spite of himself, transparent.

Unlike the majority of Victorian and Edwardian novelists, Hardy focuses primarily on the feminine. Using the stereotype of the Victorian girl as a stepping-off place rather than a cul-desac, Hardy creates heroines who are complex, self-contained, sexual, and even heroic. Those characters who most often express his point of view, those which most often become personifications of his own predispositions, fears, and failings, are his heroines. It is no accident that scores of critics from D. H. Lawrence to Albert J. Guerard have centered on Hardy's heroines as the most lifelike, most central figures of his fiction. Earlier critics found his heroines bewildering, heartless coquettes, even repugnant. Contemporary critics have rediscovered Thomas Hardy and his "ladies," but few have listened to these female voices to discover Hardy's own.

J. Hillis Miller and Rosalind Miles, for example, have both explored Hardy's definition of the heroine; indeed, their efforts provided inspiration for this text. But no critic has, to date, examined all of Hardy's heroines, novel to novel, to hear the full chorus of what seems to be the author's most deeply-felt priorities.

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