Love, Sex and Women in Thomas Hardy's Novel

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      Issues of love, sex and women interlinked. It is quite true to say that the spirit of an age can greatly be discovered in the way in which the question of love has been treated by its writers; and this can be best known by considering the type of woman that is presented by the writer. Not necessary that two writers of one age must have the same conception of women. Hardy, for example, has his own conception of women just as Meredith, a contemporary of Hardy, has his own. But the question of importance to a student of literature is as to how far the conceptions about women of Hardy and of Meredith, differ from those of their predecessors, Dickens and Thackeray. This will tell us what a great headway the subsequent age was making in respect of sex-morality.

      How sex-morality changes and reveals the age. Though Hardy’s view of women, it may be alleged, is not as advanced and modem as that of D.H. Lawrence, nor is he so much concerned with the psychoanalysis theory of Freud, yet he makes a decided advance from the days of early Victorians. He deliberately violates the self-imposed sex taboos of the early Victorians and consequently scoffs at their sentimental and cheap treatment of love. He has the same contempt for the Victorian wax-dolls as has Meredith, rior does he subscribe to the conventional and superficial response to sex of the preceding age. Hardy takes up the tragedy of a pure woman, though she is seduced in her sleep. Hardy clearly presents the case o “inner” purity as against mere physical “virtue”.

      Hardy’s women are truly moralists. Hardy's Tess is a moral tale in the same sense in which Madame Bovary of Flaubert and Tolstoy's Resurrection are moral tales. During the later days of Queen Victoria, the theory of determinism was very popular and Hardy, like George Eliot, makes his characters responsible for their acts, as opposed to the practice of the early Victorian novelists. He is certainly of the opinion that ‘our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds’.

      Hardy’s women are ‘live’ and charming. Hardy's women are living and real. Thomasin of the Return of the Native may have several points of resemblance with the heroines of the Waverley novels, but the heroines of Scott fail to sustain our interest, while our interest in Hardy's women never flags.

      His method is detailed and descriptive. In his presentation of women, Hardy is a conscious artist. By the use of many minute touches and by heaping outward details, he impresses the character indelibly upon our memory. He does not, here, employ the impressionistic art; on the contrary he gives a more detailed picture.

      Better than his male characters. Hardy's women are, on the whole and especially in the points of clarity and intensity of interest, superior to his male characters. The reason is that Hardy is at his best while dealing with elemental forces and women are by nature more emotional and less intellectual than males. They are often such figures as Eustacia Vye, who want ‘to be loved to madness.’ Even the change of emotion in their heart is accurately recorded and due to this, our knowledge of his heroines is thorough and exact.

      His success not with subtle but simple characters. It is often maintained that Hardy’s “greatest successes are with subtle characters.” Hardy does show his knowledge of psychology when he dissects the motives and purpose of characters. However, his greatest women characters are revealed to us not through any special insight into these characters but ‘through our realisation of the individual minor-key sweetness’ of their personality. “Hardy’s sensibility to feminine charm and his power to discriminate its distinguishing quality is the chief means by which he makes his heroines live; whether it be Fancy’s wilful, innocent coquetry, or Bathsheba’s ardent glowing smiles and tears, or Anne’s demure rural neatness, or Eustacia’s sombre gorgeousness,” as observed by David Cecil.

      Vivid presentation. In his approach, Hardy is not an intellectual; he is a poet. He, therefore, eschews psychological and intellectual complexities which distinguish one character from another. Instead of stressing the individual quality of the character by the method of psycho-analysis, as is common with Henry James, he gives us the whole impression of organic personality. The result is that in Hardy vve have types rather than individuals. There is one type of woman who is active, self-reliant and masterful like Bathsheba, Grace, Fancy; there is the other type who is noted for her weakness and self-effacement as Fanny Robin, Tess, Elizabeth Jane; there is a third type of woman who is of a romantic mould and is always tormented by passion—Eustacia, Charmond, Lucetta etc.; but all the women characters of Hardy suffer from one fault, i.e., the weakness of resolution and judgement However, the women in Hardy are not only types but they are individuals also. They are types because they are all concerned with one passion but they are individuals in their different and distinct approach towards the passion of love.

      No mere ticket-description. The simplicity of presentation does not make Hardy’s women characters so flat as to be summed up in one word or one catch-phrase. They are round characters like the characters of Jane Austen or of Meredith; we may characterise Bathsheba in one word as “skittish Bathsheba” but then we ignore the qualities of a strong mind and self-reliance which are so native to her. Hardy’s women are mixtures of weakness and strength and hence baffle any one-word definition.

      Comparison with Shakespeare’s women. In the end Hardy's women remind us of the women of Shakespeare in their freshness and warmth. “They are an animation like the tremulous spirit of life itself’. But they lack in the Shakespearean heights and depths. In their artistic conception alone they may be called Shakespearean. “His view of women is more French than English. It is subtle, a little cruel, not as tolerant as it seems, thoroughly a man’s point of view, and not as with Meredith, a man's and a woman’s at once. He sees all that is irresponsible for good or evil in a woman's character all that is untrustworthy in her brain and will, all that is eluding in her variability. He is her apologist, but always with a reserve of pride and judgement.”

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