Thomas Hardy and Theodore Dreiser : a comparative study
With the publication of Jude the Obscure (1985) Hardy had finished his work with the novel. Just five years later Dreiser published Sister Carrie (1900), thus making it possible that he could have found in Hardy a model. The resemblances to the Hardyan novel in both the early and later works of Dreiser are striking and varied enough to give encouragement to a hypothesis of direct influence. The evidence in support of this hypothesis we propose to take note of carefully in this study. The study is divided into six chapters. Chapter One focusses on the broadly pessimistic and deterministic philosophy that runs throughout the novels of both authors in the sense that both were `blown to bits' by reading evolutionary theories that attacked accepted views of man, God, and the universe. Thus, both found in the works of Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer evidence that man is not the creation of a benevolent deity, but rather of the interaction of unknowable forces existing in a world of struggle where survival of the fittest is the basic law. Accordingly, both concluded that man is basically determined by the natural and social forces operating from within and without to ensure man's unhappiness. In Chapter Two the protagonist of Sister Carrie is discussed in relation to the more deeply tragic heroes and heroines of Thomas Hardy, particularly Tess Durbeyfield. Carrie has the dreaminess of Jude and the natural vitality of Tess, and like Tess she is a child of nature. The chapter goes on to trace the Hardysque and Dreiserian theme of the fallen woman whose natural goodness and self-sacrifice for others keep her `Pure'. Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1981), and Jennie Gerhardt (1911), are the novels discussed in relation to this common theme. Chapter Three takes for its subject-matter the novelists' portrayal of society in the context of Herbert Spencer's application of the theory of `the survival of the fittest' to social behaviour. Donald Farfrae in Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), and Frank Cowperwood in Freiser's The Financier (1912), and The Titan (1914), are discussed as aggressive exponents of the Nietzschean superman figure, committing themselves to the values of materialism. Although both men win in the battle of life and survive, nevertheless, they undergo an inner spiritual defeat. Chapter Four probes the depth of the conflict between flesh and spirit, body and soul, vice and virtue in Hardy's Jude the Obscure and Freiser's The `Genius' (1915). Both heroes, Jude and Eugene, are sexually driven and in bondage to desire, but at the same time possess transcendental traits. In Jude's case, this contest between the spiritual and the sensual culminates inevitably in his death; Eugene, less convincingly perhaps, eventually finds temporary ease for his divided being and restless soul in the religious doctrines of Christian Science. Chapter Five examines Jude the Obscure and Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1925) as tragedies of `unfulfilled aims and aspirations'. Initially, attention is focussed upon the tragic aspect of both stories and the question of whether or not the two novels are in fact tragedies is discussed. Jude Fawley and Clyde Griffiths have opposite aims and ambitions. Jude's intellectual aspirations are contrasted with Clyde's materialistic desires. The ambition of each hero, however, is marked by failure, and the destiny of both is the same. Each is finally frustrated by forces in his nature, his society, and his circumstances. This study concludes, in Chapter Six, by noting that characters in the novels of Hardy and Dreiser rarely come to a satisfactory accommodation with life. The novels' tragic conclusions are due, in large part, to social, cultural, and universal influences which make any sense of personal fulfilment difficult, if not impossible to achieve.