Landscape, Gender, and the Politics of Belonging in Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders and Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Date of Thesis
In my thesis, I analyze Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders (1887) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), exploring the way that Hardy’s depictions of both landscape and gender are interwoven to illuminate the larger issue of belonging as a central concern for his characters. I argue that in these two novels, we can analyze how one’s belonging to a physical environment and performative gender role directly relate to characters’ tragedy or success in the narratives. Characters who challenge normalized gender roles and characters whose place attachment manifests in natural rather than social spaces, endure worse tragedies than their gendered insider and environmental outsider counterparts in Hardy’s prose. By calling attention to this pattern of tragedy, Hardy uses his novels to undermine, critique, or at least call attention to, the dominant norms and values of Victorian society that seemingly reinforce the insider/outsider relationship based on the discourse of the politics of belonging.
The chapter focusing on The Woodlanders offers an interrogation of the differing levels of autonomy that characters experience when performing in opposition to traditional gendered Victorian expectations, focusing specifically on the role that the insider/outsider relationship to a physical place has in curtailing or supporting individual agency in gender performance. My analysis departs from the typical scholarly focus on social and class-based belonging in the novel by introducing gender and sexuality to the conversation. The notion of identity narratives that constitute a character’s belonging is central to my understanding of the interrelationship between seemingly separate communities of belonging.
The chapter I dedicate to Tess of the D’Urbervilles explores the ways the feminine body interacts with the land. I track the way the shifting standard of farm work rewrites the social and physical expectations of the female body and how Tess mediates these expectations. Rather than mapping Tess onto a spectrum of belonging, I explore the range of Tess’s liminal belonging. While it seems most obvious to consider liminality as not belonging to a particular community, I argue that Tess’s liminality is an alternate to, rather than the negation of, belonging. While Tess does strive to locate herself in communities of belonging, Tess’s liminality is both a persistent inability to belong and a refusal to make concessions for the sake of belonging. It is only through her temporal liminality that Tess can briefly experience a kind of belonging. In the end, however, Tess’s only option for sustained belonging is death.
Finally, I conclude with a brief exploration of the possibility of expanding this project to include an analysis of the role of belonging in Hardy’s poetry. In analyzing “The Puzzled Game-Birds” (1901), I call attention to Hardy’s reworking of a scene that he first recorded in his journal, wrote in his novel, and then developed into a poem. This process of writing and rewriting encourages a parallel reading of Hardy’s own repeating remediations of the terms of his belonging as he transitions from a working-class man to a novelist and then to a poet.
ecocriticism, gender and sexuality studies, Victorian literature, communities of belonging, place attachment, identity narratives
Master of Arts
Dickerson, Sarah, "Landscape, Gender, and the Politics of Belonging in Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders and Tess of the D’Urbervilles" (2020). Master’s Theses. 233.
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Commons, Literature in English, British Isles Commons, Other Arts and Humanities Commons