Social conditioning versus biological determinism : a study of the women characters in the 'minor' novels of Thomas Hardy
The popular and critical consensus with regard to the novels of Thomas Hardy is that they exemplify a fatalistic or pessimistic philosophy consequent upon their author's early contact with evolutionary thought. One of the functions of this thesis is to demonstrate that, whilst accepting that the life and development of the individual was necessarily determined by certain biological laws, Hardy's novels examine the operation of another shaping force on human existence: namely the social process created and perpetrated by humanity itself. Hardy's literary career spans the period during which the emergent feminist movement constituted one of the major challenges to the status quo. By documenting Hardy's eventual active support of the women's suffrage campaign, this thesis seeks to reveal the extent to which he located the potential and need for social change in women's frustrations, and their rebellion against the confines of those laws, conventions and value structures which directly pertained to them. Whilst Hardy's novels offer few, if any, feminist solutions, by focussing upon women as the victims of the social process they reveal, through implication, those areas where enlightened social reform is both necessary and of potential benefit to all sections of humanity. The minor novels have been chosen to illustrate this thesis because they, more clearly than the undisputed classics, bear witness to those aspects of Hardy's prose vision which do not fit the popular and critical stereotype. Moreover, the minor novels constitute a considerable portion of Hardy's prose output which has failed to attract the critical attention it deserves. This thesis seeks to redress the balance in that respect. Whilst the methodology adopted by this study is essentially text-centred, the intellectual background to these novels is amplified in the early sections by a selective discussion of their author's life and times.