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Thomas Hardy Writing Dress

Series:

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 5Boots and Shoes in Under the Greenwood Tree 113

Extract

Chapter 5 Boots and Shoes in Under the Greenwood Tree If we are to believe the most enthusiastic proponent of the ideas, William Rossi, the sexual life of all humans owes its existence to our unique feet, and moreover our feet are the most intensely erotic part of our bodies.1 He is a fanatic, and his book, though entertaining, drives one to sceptical opposi- tion, the stronger for every chapter that repeats the message. He overstates almost every case, but many other writers from Havelock Ellis and Freud have of fered more measured confirmation of the implication of varied elements of the foot in various aspects of sexuality, and of the complicit erotic relationship between the foot and the shoe, similar to that between the hand and the glove.2 Rossi goes so far (actually he goes further) as to propose that a person’s choice of boot or shoe is a sure indicator of the state of her or his libido. One of the necessary concessions, however, that Rossi makes when asserting that the only function of shoes is to stimulate sexually, is that this is primarily an urban truth, and one that only relates to fashionable footwear. Under the Greenwood Tree is Hardy’s shoe and boot novel, and though it is emphatically not urban, it still of fers a moderate confirmation of the less extreme of Rossi’s views. It is also a novel about work and workmanship, and the most prominent craftsman in it is the shoemaker Robert Penny. During...

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