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Thomas Hardy Writing Dress


Simon Gatrell

This new study provides fresh readings of Thomas Hardy’s work and illuminates the social and cultural history of dress in the nineteenth century. The book argues that Hardy had a more detailed and acute understanding of the importance of dress in forming and regulating personal identity and social relations than any other writer of his time. Structured thematically, it takes into account both nineteenth-century and modern theoretical approaches to the significance of what we wear.
The author gives an extended analysis of individual works by Hardy, showing, for example, that A Pair of Blue Eyes is central to the study of the function of clothing in the expression and perception of sexuality. The Hand of Ethelberta, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Woodlanders are examined in order to show the extent to which dress obscures or reveals the nature of the self. Hardy’s other novels, as well as the short stories and poems, are used to confirm the centrality of dress and clothing in Hardy’s work. The book also raises issues such as the gendering of dress, cross-dressing, work clothes and working with clothes, dress and the environment, the symbolism of colour in clothes, and the dress conventions relating to death.


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Introduction 1


1 In one of his critical essays, ‘The Profitable Reading of Fiction’, Hardy directed his theoretical attention to the role that clothes may play in litera- ture, writing of authors who are ‘faithful in … life garniture and not life. You are fully persuaded that the personages are clothed precisely as you see them clothed in the street, in the drawing-room, at the assembly. Even the trif ling accidents of their costume are rendered by the honest narrator. … But what of it, after our first sense of its photographic curiousness is past? In aiming at the trivial and the ephemeral they have almost surely missed better things.’ There are plenty of moments in Hardy’s own work when he is precise about what a character wears; but in his essay he goes on: ‘we must not, as inquiring readers, fail to understand that attention to accessories has its virtues when the nature of its regard does not involve blindness to higher things; still more when it conduces to the elucidation of higher things.’12 The whole thrust of this book will be to point out in detail how Hardy’s attention to dress ‘conduces to the elucidation of higher things.’ In a study like this there is a danger of becoming over-enthusiastic, of claiming, indirectly perhaps, too much for the focus of attention, of imply- ing that an account of Hardy’s handling of clothes in his work will account for Hardy’s work. I hope I have remained conscious of that danger. But what I...

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