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Thomas Hardy Writing Dress

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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 2Dress, the Body and Sexuality 63

Extract

Chapter 2 Dress, the Body and Sexuality When Joan Durbeyfield dressed Tess for her meeting with Alec d’Urberville her appearance, as I suggested in the previous chapter, had nothing to do with her intrinsic self; but it did communicate to Alec exactly what Joan intended that it should. Through the choice of dress, the arrangement of hair, Tess’s body was specifically prepared to become the focus of his erotic attention. However, every item of dress has the power to produce in some- one somewhere an erotic response – a response deriving to a large degree from the body implied or exposed by that dress, however obscurely-layered, however ordinary and functional it might appear to anyone else. This is basic knowledge for Hardy. Alec’s erotic interest in Tess is aroused just as much by the way her body is shaped by her working clothes at Flintcomb Ash as it had been by her first appearance at The Slopes. Grace Fitzpiers reluctantly agrees to meet her estranged husband Edred, out of doors, and chaperoned by Marty South. It is February: ‘Grace was muf f led up in her winter dress, and he thought that she had never looked so seductive as at this moment, in the noontide bright but heatless sun, and the keen wind, and the purplish-gray masses of brushwood around.’1 All Grace thought of when dressing was keeping warm, seduction was the last thing she had on her mind; but that meant nothing to the observer, and it is worth noting...

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