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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 3Gloves 87

Extract

Chapter 3 Gloves Gloves are for many working people a necessary form of protection, and later in this chapter some consideration is given to such equipment; but for the middle classes in town and country gloves could strongly be eroti- cized, for they were the only item of clothing that could be removed with propriety in public to reveal the wearer’s naked skin. The revelation is of the essence: the relationship between glove and ungloved hand could come to be a synecdoche for the sexual relationship between clothes and naked body. It is not dif ficult, for instance, to recognize that under such cultural circumstances the insertion of a man’s fingers into the glove a woman is wearing becomes an intensely erotic act, and in the story ‘On the Western Circuit’ from Life’s Little Ironies the unusual love-triangle is triggered by such a gesture. Edith Harnham, like Ella Marchmill in ‘An Imaginative Woman’, is bored with her life and with her dull husband. Her house overlooks the site of a fair, to which her maid, Anna, has gone, and at which she has stayed rather longer than expected. Seeking an excuse for a little excitement herself she goes to look for Anna. A young lawyer, Charles Raye, who has been attracted to Anna, explains that he encouraged her to ride on the merry- go-round a second time, and that ‘she has been quite safe’.1 Mrs Harnham then turns to leave the pair, but in the crowd ‘found herself pressed against...

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