Hardy's creatures : encountering animals in Thomas Hardy's novels
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‘Hardy’s Creatures’ examines the human and nonhuman animals who walk and crawl and twine and fly and trot across and around the pages of Thomas Hardy’s novels: figures on two feet and on four, some with hands, all with faces. Specifically, the thesis traces the appearances of the term ‘creature’ in Hardy’s works as a way of levelling the ground between humans and animals and of reconfiguring traditional boundaries between the two. Hardy firmly believed in a ‘shifted [...] centre of altruism’ after Darwin that extended ethical consideration to include animals. In moments of encounter between humans and animals in his texts—encounters often highlighted by the word ‘creature’—Hardy seems to test the boundaries that were being debated by the Victorian scientific and philosophical communities: boundaries based on moral sense or moral agency (as discussed in chapter two), language and reason (chapter three), the possession of a face (chapter four), and the capacity to suffer and perceive pain (chapter five). His use of ‘creature’, a word that can have both distinctly human and uniquely animal meanings, draws upon the multiple (and at times contradictory) connotations embedded in it, complicating attempts to delineate decisively between two realms and offering instead ambiguity and irony. Hardy’s focus on the material world and on embodiment, complemented by his willingness to shift perspective and scale and to imagine the worlds of other creatures, gestures towards empathy and compassion while recognizing the unknowability of the individual. His approach seems a precursor to the kind of thinking about and with animals being done by animal studies today. Encountering Hardy’s creatures offers a new way of wandering through Wessex, inviting readers to reconsider their own perspectives on what it means to be a creature.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy