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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 11Dress and Death 229

Extract

Chapter 11 Dress and Death In the chapter on coloured clothes I examined how Hardy used the dress- conventions surrounding mourning during the Victorian period in the con- trasts he wished to draw in some novels between black and white clothing; but his interest in what amounted to a uniform for those recently bereaved did not end there, so this chapter explores what else he suggests mourning clothes might reveal of identity, and since Hardy’s work, particularly his poetry, is so thoroughly associated with the grave and what lies therein, it concludes with consideration of how he clothes the dead themselves. Society imposed mourning clothes of varying intensity on relatives of the deceased, whether they wished to wear them or no. The speaker (or perhaps rather the thinker) in ‘The Pink Frock’ from Moment of Vision, is evidently one of the unwilling: ‘O my pretty pink frock, I sha’n’t be able to wear it! Why is he dying just now? I hardly can bear it! ‘He might have contrived to live on; But they say there’s no hope whatever: And must I shut myself up, And go out never? ‘O my pretty pink frock? Puf f-sleeved and accordion-pleated! He might have passed in July, And not so cheated!’ The very simplicity of the poem provokes several questions: Who is she? Who is dying? What are we supposed to think about her response to the news? Her tone throughout suggests naivety, youth and a first run-in with 230 Chapter 11...

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