Thomas Hardy and the meaning of freedom
This is a study of the meaning of freedom in Thomas Hardy's fiction. The first section of the thesis is concerned with the influences in Hardy's thought and view of man and man's position in the universe. Attention will be given mainly to three sources of influence on Hardy's thought. Darwinian theories of evolution and the secular movement of the nineteenth century and the change they brought about in man's view of himself and his state in the world can be seen clearly in Hardy's personal writings as well as his fiction. His childhood contact with Dorset folk beliefs and superstitions can also be perceived to have a great influence not only on his art but on his thought and outlook as well. In the second section an investigation in detail of the meaning of freedom in four of Hardy's novels will be carried out. In the novels, man will be seen as essentially free and not an automaton or a plaything of necessity or nature or fate, for example. However, we shall see that man's freedom of action as well as of choice is severely limited but not annihilated by a number of factors working from within and from without man's character. In this, nature both as phenomena and as system plays a great part. Society with its standards, norms, laws and implied understandings is another contributing factor in constraining man's freedom. Man also has his freedom limited by chance happenings and coincidences that he cannot control. "Character is fate", quotes Hardy from Novalis, and everywhere in the novels we see characters' destinies linked tightly with their personal traits, unconscious urges and peculiarities of character either passed to them by heredity or formed by early life conditioning or both. Nevertheless, man is responsible in Hardy's view because he has that essential sense of freedom; and hence that tragic flavour that tinges Hardy's fiction which would have been impossible with machine-like people as characters.