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Thomas Hardy’s tragic vision: Writing towards proto-modernist modes of fiction

Prentice, Nick

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Nick Prentice


This thesis offers a narratorial and textual examination of the tragic in Hardy’s fiction and uncovers how his tragic vision of a changing world led him into proto-modernist forms of writing. By first positing Hardy within his milieu and exploring the ideas, beliefs and attitudes that gave rise to his expression of the tragic, the thesis proceeds to conducts a close textual analysis of the fiction. His early psychological use of environment and the construction of metaphoric landscapes evoke a disturbing sense of place, in which individuals are diminished and displaced by nature. In this mode, Hardy’s agnostic, secular recasting of the tragic brings to the fore the material world, objects, animals and the non-human. Hardy’s experimental use of fetichism and the primitive and his animism intensify the tragic situation in the middle fiction. Here, there is also a pronounced satiric strain in the writing, elements of the absurd and use of ‘abstract imaginings’ through which Hardy expresses what he called ‘tragical mysteries of life’. The hybrid nature of the texts, with their fluid oscillations of mode, I argue, shapes the tragic effect and reflects Hardy’s experimental and recursive procedures during this period. The final concern of the thesis is the fragmentation of experience in the later fiction, which focuses upon Hardy’s depiction of the destructive forces of the unconscious and his use of shocks and interruptions in the short stories. The vision of isolated individuals failing to find fulfilment and connection with each other comes to the fore in these works. Hardy’s later and more radical experiments in characterisation present unstable beings that are read as simulacras; amalgamations of nerves and sensations. Such a recasting of the human reflects a vital proto-modernist aspect of Hardy’s writing, which subverts realist representations of the individual and anticipates the fractured, unstable characters of the modernists.


Prentice, N. (in press). Thomas Hardy’s tragic vision: Writing towards proto-modernist modes of fiction. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Acceptance Date Jan 28, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jun 7, 2019
Keywords Thomas, Hardy, tragic, tragedy, protomodernism, fiction, protomodern, nineteenth, century
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