A modern Wessex of the penny post’ : letters and the post in Thomas Hardy’s novels
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This thesis examines the use and representation of letters (and other written messages) in Thomas Hardy’s novels, and it considers how Hardy’s writing engages with Victorian communication technologies. The 1895 Preface to Far from the Madding Crowd describes Hardy’s fictional setting as a ‘a modern Wessex of railways, the penny post, mowing and reaping machines, union workhouses, lucifer matches, labourers who could read and write, and National school children’. The penny post, a communication revolution with an enormous social, economic, and cultural impact, was introduced on 10 January 1840, just a few months before Hardy was born. This thesis aims to demonstrate how a consideration of the material, technological and cultural conditions of communication in Victorian England might reshape our understanding of Hardy’s novels, especially of the countless letters, notes, and telegrams which permeate his texts. The written messages in Hardy’s novels serve as a means for exploring the process of human communication, and the way this process shapes individual identity, interpersonal relationships, and social interactions alike. Chapter I of this thesis relates Hardy’s portrayal of letters to the historical transition from oral tradition to written culture. Chapter II enquires into the relationship between letter writing and notions of privacy and publicity in Hardy’s novels. Chapters III and IV argue that Hardy uses letters so as to give a strikingly modern complexity to his representation of human subjectivity and intersubjectivity. The two final chapters investigate how the modalities and technological conditions of written communication influence the construction of Hardy’s narratives, the design of his plots. Taken together, the six chapters examine Hardy’s perception of one of the most fundamental human activities: communication.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Electronic copy restricted until 28th November 2019
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations
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