Marriage in the novels of Thomas Hardy

Dawson, Rosemary (1981) Marriage in the novels of Thomas Hardy. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The institution of marriage and the relations between the sexes figure largely in the novels of Thomas Hardy. In most of his novels, the action centres around a marriage or a potential marriage that does not take place. The preoccupation with this theme focuses attention on the aspirations and attitudes of characters in nineteenth century England. Hardy's treatment of the subject shows the contrast between marriage as an ideal--a freely accepted and mutually rewarding relationship--and the distortion of that ideal in the context of social and psychological reality. -- Essentially, Hardy was concerned about "man's inhumanity to man." In the Victorian era, in which Hardy lived, man's inhumanity to his fellow creatures was manifested particularly strongly in his attitude towards marriage, sexuality and towards women. Because of the false notions about respectability, there grew up a rigid social code which stressed adherence to the status quo and which condemned individuals who wandered in any way. -- Basically, Hardy felt that the institution of marriage, and the attitudes towards this institution in the Victorian era, formed part of a larger social manifestation that frustrated and sometimes even destroyed individuals. He emphasizes unhappy marriages and human disillusionment; and he stresses that marriage, as seen in nineteenth century England, only serves to alienate the individual. In contrast, he shows the spontaneity of true, free, natural relationships. In contrasting man with nature, Hardy shows that institutional morality imposed harsh penalties upon man, who, after all, does possess natural instincts. -- Hardy's view of the universe is akin to that of Schopenhauer. Both agree that most of man's suffering is caused by his sexual nature. However, Hardy felt that since sexuality was part of life, it ought to be recognized, and not repressed as it had been in the popular novels. He stressed that society's attempt to regulate the instinctual, nonrational element of man's nature was the cause of much of the tragedy of man's life; and his novels can be seen as pleas for relaxation of the rigid moral code and the inflexible, outdated marriage laws. -- Hardy emphasizes a spiritual communion, rather than a physical union; and he preaches a religion of loving kindness and compassion for one's fellow creatures. His belief that much of the tragedy of man's existence will eventually be ameliorated establishes him as a "meliorist" rather than a pessimist.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7092
Item ID: 7092
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 129-135.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1981
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: England
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928--Knowledge--Manners and customs; Marriage in literature

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