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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 4Hair 97

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Chapter 4 Hair When Hardy looked on at the scene of the declaration of the result of a parliamentary election it was the wife of the unseated MP that caught his attention – the woman rather than the man, the secondary rather than the primary figure; and it was aspects of her appearance that remained with him most vividly, aspects that link this chapter with the previous one. The poem he wrote as a consequence (‘The Rejected Member’s Wife’) begins ‘We shall see her no more / On the balcony’, and rounds after twenty lines to: ‘But she will no more stand / In the sunshine there, / With that wave of her white-gloved hand, / And that chestnut hair.’ In the gloved gesture Hardy indicates a grace in defeat; that the glove is white confirms that she belongs to a class for whom a new and spotless pair is a trivial considera- tion. But the real reason for the poem comes in the last line, in a detail that has nothing whatever to do with the occasion; despite her admirable magnanimity, ‘that’ chestnut hair glistening in the sunlight is really all that is important to the narrator – it is what makes her remarkable, desirable even, amid the general pathos. The hair of many of the important woman and some of the men in his novels is equally active in Hardy’s characterisation of them, and though at first glance to include hair might seem to stretch too far any viable definition...

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