Images of alienation and isolation in Thomas Hardy's short fiction
The thesis studies the whole range of Hardy's short stories, arguing that the distinctive core of Hardy's writing in this form is a profound sense of human alienation and loneliness. The opening chapter considers the factors that gave rise to the development of the genre in the 1880s and 1890s, and Hardy's stories are compared to these contemporary stories, noting the popularity of stories set in traditional, rural environments, especially the "Celtic fringes" far from the urban world which many readers inhabited. Attention is given to the traditional modes of story-telling adopted by Hardy; the appropriateness of the storyteller's "speaking voice" to the subject matter is discussed. Hardy's stories are seen as exemplifying Frank O'Connor's characterisation of the short story as the genre which expresses the experience of the "submerged population group" and the figure of the isolate or exile. The second chapter seeks to identify biographical factors which might have contributed to a vision of human loneliness, and these are related to contemporary intellectual developments. Particular motifs, such as the alienated returning native, are noted. The third chapter focuses on the power of place in Hardy's imaginative world, the ways in which landscapes and settings enact the theme of alienation and isolation. The fourth and fifth chapters consider the alienating effects of class consciousness in the stories, especially through its effects on love and marriage. The tensions here are seen as being exacerbated by the ways Hardy's society constructs women; the stories are frequently studies of the plight of women, trapped in a society which constrains or disregards their natural (including their sexual) impulses. The final chapter considers the way in which the stories show individuals struggling to live their lives in a world which no longer makes sense and considers Hardy's use of the conventions of the supernatural to dramatise his vision of humans alone in a world governed by chance.