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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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Chapter 1Dress and Personality; Dress and Identity 13


Chapter 1 Dress and Personality; Dress and Identity Anne Hollander comments in her foundational study Seeing Through Clothes on the literary representation of clothing: ‘it is customary to make the selfhood of a character (perhaps including his basic facial and bodily qualities) precise and at the same time to keep his clothing visually impre- cise, though it is sometimes necessary to make it dramatically cogent’. She also writes: ‘Clothes are separated from all other objects by being inseparable from the self. They give a visible aspect to consciousness itself ’.1 It is the goal of this chapter to investigate Hardy’s ideas on these mat- ters, to show that when examined in detail the issues are more subtle and less clear cut than Hollander is able to allow for; to argue that Hardy is both precise and imprecise in his representation of the look of clothing, of the ef fect of body and dress together, depending on the individual who is wearing the clothes and the occasion of her appearance. I also argue that Hardy believes that the relationship between the self of an individual and the clothes she wears is by no means fixed, that it can be as tenuous as con- ceivable and as close to identity as can be imagined, depending upon the nature of the self and the circumstances she finds herself in. Writers have absolute freedom of choice in deciding what the char- acters that they create should wear – or if, indeed, we should ever know...

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