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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 10 Clothing the World, the World and Clothing: The Return of the Native 213

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Chapter 10 Clothing the World, the World and Clothing: The Return of the Native From the beginning of The Return of the Native Hardy directs us to under- stand the novel’s sole environment, Egdon Heath, as more than the scene of the action; he proposes the heath as an agent in the novel, a personality – as a character, some have wished to go so far as to say. The metaphorical existence of the heath as a quasi-human entity begins as a face; the title of this first chapter, indeed, is ‘A face on which time makes but little impression’, and the conception is reinforced by sentences in the chapter itself: ‘The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half-an-hour to eve’ and a little later: ‘solitude seemed to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities’. Further on in the chapter the metaphor changes from expressive face to dressed body: ‘Ever since the beginning of vegetation its soil had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural and invariable garment of the formation.’ Later in the novel we read of the heath’s ‘green or young-fern period’ and the firing of the ‘crimson heather to scarlet’, but the narrator makes it clear that these temporary brilliances are no more than adornments on the sur- face of the essential brown garment that unchangingly underlies f lower and frond, the perpetual dull clothing over the naked soil, a basic clothing, or an underclothing, which is fully...

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