SELECTED QUOTATIONS: GENDER AND SEXUALITY
list of quotations, selected from the fiction, poetry, letters, and essays, together with a sprinkling of observations by Hardy’s contemporaries,
is not meant to be exhaustive, but to indicate the complexity and range
of Hardy’s engagement with the gender issues of his day.
The most striking aspect of such a compilation of quotations from Hardy’s work is their contradictory relation to each other, seemingly essentialist sentiments co-existing with an almost postmodern willingness to disrupt binary constructions of gender and sexuality. No single stance is apparent, making it difficult to trace the development of Hardy’s thought about any particular issue over the course of his career—although the decreasing number of confident narratorial generalizations about women or love as we approach the later novels, for instance, would seem to indicate his maturing awareness of the mutability of gender roles and the ongoing difficulty of finding “that homely thing, a satisfactory scheme for the conjunction of the sexes,” as he so aptly put it in “The Tree of Knowledge”(1894). From the knowing asides of Far From the Madding Crowd to the massive bewilderment of Jude, we can observe a growing uncertainty as to how (or indeed whether) this might be achieved. Hardy’s convoluted syntax and arcane circumlocutions—never more prominent than in his pronouncements on women and gender—also indicate his profound perplexity with such issues.
While the following list contains certain remarks about gender by various fictional characters, most of the quotations from the fiction consist of generalizations uttered by the narrator(s). It should be clear, however, that this does not “validate” them in any particular way. Hardy’s narrative voice, as critics have noted, is notoriously evasive and non-committal.
As the late Kristin Brady so eloquently put it, “[O]ur terms of analysis increasingly have become both technically and ideologically complex. We no longer have a one-dimensional understanding of Hardy’s authorial role, nor do we assume that his texts are perfectly unified. Hardy, his characters, his plots, his language, his images, his narrative devices, his actual and inscribed readers—not to mention his relationships with other texts and with pressing issues of his own time—all are seen to operate in an association of conflict and contradiction: Hardy’s texts like women and dislike them; they depict and evoke both pleasure and pain, both arousal and anxiety; they are the source for female readers of frustration and fascination.” 1
1. “Thomas Hardy and Matters of Gender,” The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy, ed. Dale Kramer, Cambridge UP 1999, 104.
Ed. Mary Rimmer (Penguin, 1998)
Cytherea: “[Springrove] says that your true lover breathlessly finds himself engaged to a sweetheart, like a man who has caught something in the dark. He doesn’t know whether it is a bat or a bird, and takes it to the light when he is cool to learn what it is. He looks to see if she is the right age, but right age or wrong age, he must consider her a prize. Sometime later he ponders whether she is the right kind of prize for him. Right kind or wrong kind—he has called her his, and must abide by it.” (I, Ch. 2, Pt. 3)
How exquisite a sweetheart is at first! Perhaps . . . the only bliss in the course of love which can truly be called Eden-like is that which prevails immediately after doubt has ended and before reflection has set in—at the dawn of the emotion, when it is not recognized by name, and before the consideration of what this love is, has given birth to the consideration of what difficulties it tends to create. . . . (I, Ch. 3, Pt. 2)
It is a melancholy truth for the middle classes, that in proportion as they develope, by the study of poetry and art, their capacity for conjugal love of the highest and purest kind, they limit the possibility of their being able to exercise it—the very act putting out of their power the attainment of means sufficient for marriage. The man who works up a good income has had no time to learn love to its exquisite extreme; the man who has learnt that has had no time to get rich. (I, Ch. 3, Pt. 2)
How much more important a love-letter seems to a girl than to a man! . . . [A] man . . . may write himself up to a hero in the mind of a young woman who loves him without knowing much about him. (I, Ch. 5, Pt. 1)
As is invariably the case with women where a man they care for is the subject of an excitement among them, the situation abstracted the differences which distinguished them as individuals, and left only the properties common to them as atoms of a sex. (I, Ch. 8, Pt. 2)
Clerk Crickett: “[M]atrimony d’ begin ‘Dearly beloved,’ and ends wi’ ‘Amazement,’ as the prayer book says.” (I, Ch. 8, Pt. 3)
His clothes are something exterior to every man; but to a woman her dress is part of her body. Its motions are all present to her intelligence if not to her eyes; no man knows how his coat-tails swing. By the slightest hyperbole it may be said that her dress has sensation. Crease but the very Ultima Thule of fringe or flounce, and it hurts her as much as pinching her. (I, Ch. 8, Pt. 4)
Owen: “You know as well as I do . . . that with women there's nothing between the two poles of emotion towards an interesting male acquaintance. ‘Tis either love or hate.” (II, Ch. 1, Pt. 3)
Mrs. Leat, the postmistress: “Do he look married now? His are not the abashed eyes and lips of a married man.” (II, Ch. 1, Pt. 4)
[I]n spite of a fashion which pervades the whole community at the present day—the habit of exclaiming that woman is not undeveloped man, but diverse, the fact remains that, after all, women are Mankind, and that in many of the sentiments of life the difference of sex is but a difference of degree. (II, Ch. 2, Pt. 4)
Some women kindle emotion so rapidly in a man's heart, that the judgment cannot keep pace with its rise, and finds, on comprehending the situation, that faithfulness to the old love is already treachery to the new. Such women are not necessarily the greatest of their sex, but there are very few of them. (II, Ch. 2, Pt. 4)
Perhaps the moral compensation for all a woman’s petty cleverness under thriving conditions is the real nobility that lies in her extreme foolishness at . . . other times: her sheer inability to be simply just, her exercise of an illogical power entirely denied to men in general—the power not only of kissing, but of delighting to kiss the rod by a punctilious observance of the self-immolating doctrines in the Sermon on the Mount. (II, Ch. 4, Pt. 1)
[I]f any rule at all can be laid down in a matter which, for men collectively, is notoriously beyond regulation, it is that to snub a petted man, and to pet a snubbed man, is the way to win in suits of both kinds. (II, Ch. 4, Pt. 3)
[Cytherea] could not help indulging in a woman’s pleasure of recreating defunct agonies, and lacerating herself with them now and then. (II, Ch. 4, Pt. 7)
Women who are bad enough to divide against themselves under a man’s partiality, are good enough to instantly unite in a common cause against his attack. (II, Ch. 5, Pt. 2)
[S]he was prettily and carefully dressed, a strange contradiction in a man’s idea of things; a saddening, perplexing contradiction. Are there any points in which a difference of sex amounts to a difference of nature? Then this is surely one. . . . [H]ere was Cytherea, in the bottom of her heart almost indifferent to life, yet possessing an instinct with which her heart had nothing to do, the instinct to be particularly regardful of those sorry trifles, her robe, her flowers, her veil, and her gloves. (II, Ch. 5, Pt. 3)
One of those strange revivals of passion by mere sight—commoner in women than in men, and in oppressed women commonest of all—had taken place in her. . . . (II, Ch. 5, Pt. 3)
Nobody indoors guessed from her countenance and bearing that her heart was near to breaking with the intensity of the misery which gnawed there. At these times a woman does not faint, or weep, or scream, as she will in the moment of sudden shocks. When lanced by a mental agony of such refined and special torture that it is indescribable by men’s words, she moves among her acquaintances much as before. . . . (II, Ch. 5, Pt. 4)
It seems to be an almost universal rule that a woman who once has courted, or who eventually will court, the society of men on terms dangerous to her honour, cannot refrain from flinging the meaning glance whenever the moment arrives in which the glance is strongly asked for, even if her life and whole future depended upon that moment’s abstinence. (III, Ch. 1, Pt. 4)
Of all the ingenious and cruel satires that from the beginning till now have been stuck like knives into womankind, surely there is not one so lacerating to them, and to us who love them, as the trite old fact, that the most wretched of men can, in the twinkling of an eye, find a wife ready to be more wretched still for the sake of his company. (III, Ch. 3, Pt. 4)
Ed. Simon Gatrell (Oxford World's Classics, 1999)
Reuben Dewy (Dick’s father): “When you’ve made up your mind to marry, take the first respectable body that comes to hand—she’s as good as any other; they be all alike in the groundwork; ‘tis only in the flourishes there’s a difference. . . .
Now, Dick, this is how a maid is. She'll swear she's dying for thee, and she is dying for thee, and she will die for thee; but she'll fling a look over t'other shoulder at another young feller, though never leaving off dying for thee just the same.” (II, Ch. 8)
[I]t may be observed that when a young woman returns a rude answer to a young man’s civil remark her heart is in a state which argues rather hopefully for his case than otherwise. (III, Ch. 1)
Ed. Alan Manford (Oxford World's Classics, 2005)
Every woman who makes a permanent impression on a man is usually recalled to his mind’s eye as she appeared in one particular scene, which seems ordained to be her special form of manifestation throughout the pages of his memory. (Ch. 3)
Women accept their destiny more readily than men. (Ch. 9)
Elfride had her sex’s love of sheer force in a man, however ill-directed. . . . Decisive action is seen by appreciative minds to be frequently objectless, and sometimes fatal; but decision, however suicidal, has more charm for a woman than the most unequivocal Fabian success. (Ch. 12)
Attack is more piquant than concord . . . . And a stranger with neither name nor shape, age nor appearance, but a mighty voice, is naturally rather an interesting novelty to a lady he chooses to address. (Ch. 15)
A man in love setting up his brains as a gauge of his position is as one determining a ship’s longitude from a light at the mast-head. (Ch. 20)
Woman’s ruling passion—to fascinate and influence those more powerful than she—though operant in Elfride, was decidedly purposeless. (Ch. 20)
Partly, . . . Stephen’s failure to make his hold on her heart a permanent one was his too timid habit of dispraising himself to her . . . [which] inevitably leads the most sensible women in the world to undervalue him who practices it. Directly domineering ceases in the man, snubbing begins in the woman; the trite but no less unfortunate fact being that the gentler creature rarely has the capacity to appreciate fair treatment from her natural complement. (Ch. 27)
It is difficult to frame rules which shall apply to both sexes. . . . (Ch. 27)
Ed. Suzanne B. Falck-Yi (Oxford World's Classics, 2002)
Woman’s prescriptive infirmity [vanity] had stalked into the sunlight, which had clothed it in the freshness of an originality. (Ch. 1)
She might have looked her thanks to Gabriel on a minute scale, but she did not speak them: more probably she felt none, for in gaining her a passage he had lost her her point, and we know how women take a favour of that kind. (Ch. 1)
“It was not exactly the fault of the hut,” she observed in a tone which showed her to be that novelty among women—one who finished a thought before beginning the sentence which was to convey it. (Ch. 3)
[S]ome women only require an emergency to make them fit for one. (Ch. 7)
It appears that ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible without marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands because marriage is not possible without possession; with totally differing aims the method is the same on both sides. (Ch. 20)
[W]oman at the impressionable age gravitates to the larger body not only in her choice of words, which is apparent every day, but even in her shades of tone and humour when the influence is great. (Ch. 22)
[T]he situation was not without a fearful joy. The facility with which even the most timid women sometimes acquire a relish for the dreadful when that is amalgamated with a little triumph, is marvellous. (Ch. 23)
Women are never tired of bewailing man’s fickleness in love, but they only seem to snub his constancy. (Ch. 24)
There are occasions when girls like Bathsheba will put up with a great deal of unconventional behaviour. When they want to be praised, which is often; when they want to be mastered, which is sometimes; and when they want no nonsense, which is seldom. (Ch. 24)
[T]hat a male dissembler, who by deluging her with untenable fictions charms the female wisely, may acquire powers reaching to the extremity of perdition, is a truth taught to many by unsought and wringing occurrences. (Ch. 25)
When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away. (Ch. 29)
Bathsheba: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language, which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” (Ch. 51)
Bathsheba’s feeling was always to some extent dependent upon her whim, as is the case with many other women. (Ch. 56)
Theirs was that substantial affection which arises . . . when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship—camaraderie—usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate not in their labours but in their pleasure merely. Where however happy circumstance permits its development the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death – that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam. (Ch.56)
Ed. Tim Dolin (Penguin, 1996)
Christopher to his sister Faith: “[W]hen a man checks all a woman’s finer sentiment towards him by marrying her, it is only natural that it should find a vent somewhere.” (I, Ch. 2)
[T]o have an unsexed judgment is as precious as to be an unsexed being is deplorable. (I, Ch. 8)
Ethelberta: “[M]en and women are but children enlarged a little.” (I, Ch. 15)
[H]e was thinking less of the subject she was so eagerly and hopefully descanting upon than upon her aspect in explaining it. It is a fault of manner particularly common among men newly imported into the society of bright and beautiful women. . . . (I, Ch. 15)
That she had not the slightest notion of accepting the impulsive painter made little difference; a lover’s arguments being apt to affect a lady’s mood as much by measure as by weight. A useless declaration [of love], like a rare china tea-cup with a hole in it, has its ornamental value in enlarging a collection. (I, Ch. 21)
Ethelberta: “[Women] don't need to know a man well in order to love him. That's only necessary when we want to leave off.” (I, Ch. 21)
Ethelberta: “[D]on’t you go believing in sayings, Picotee: they are all made by men, for their own advantages. Women who use public proverbs as a guide through events are those who have not ingenuity enough to make private ones as each event occurs.” (I, Ch. 22)
She stood there, as all women stand who have made themselves remarkable by their originality, or devotion to any singular cause, as a person freed of her hampering and inconvenient sex, and, by virtue of her popularity, unfettered from the conventionalities of manner prescribed by custom for household womankind. The charter to move abroad unchaperoned, which society for good reasons grants only to women of three sorts—the famous, the ministering, and the improper—Ethelberta was in a fair way to make splendid use of. . . . (II, Ch. 33)
Ethelberta wished heartily, for his sake, there could be warm friendship between herself and him, as well as all her lovers, without that insistent courtship and marriage question. . . . (II, Ch. 37)
Lord Mountclere . . . [had] just pocketed a document [a marriage license] in which romance, rashness, law, and gospel are so happily made to work together that it may safely be regarded as the neatest compromise which has ever been invented since Adam sinned. (II, Ch. 42)
Ed. Simon Gatrell (Oxford World's Classics, 2005)
Once let a maiden admit the possibility of her being stricken with love for some one at some hour and place, and the thing is as good as done. (II, Ch. 6)
To court their own discomfiture by love is a common instinct with certain perfervid women. . . . (II, Ch. 6)
Physically beautiful men—the glory of the race when it was young—are almost an anachronism now; and we may wonder whether, at some time or other, physically beautiful women may not be an anachronism likewise. (III, Ch. 1)
Of love it may it be said, the less earthly the less demonstrative. In its absolutely indestructible form it reaches a profundity in which all exhibition of itself is painful. (III, Ch. 3)
Clym: “You are just like all women. They are ever content to build their lives on any incidental position that offers itself; whilst men would fain make a globe to suit them.” (III, Ch. 5)
Mrs. Yeobright: “Sons must be blind if they will. Why is it that a woman can see from a distance what a man cannot see close?” (III, Ch. 6)
It was the first time that he had confronted the fact of the indirectness of a woman’s movement towards her desire. (IV, Ch. 2)
Wildeve: “Men are given to the trick of having a passing fancy for somebody else in the midst of a permanent love, which re-asserts itself afterwards just as before.” (IV, Ch. 6)
Ed. Richard Nemesvari (Oxford World's Classics, 1999)
Any woman who has ever tried will know without explanation what an unpalatable task it is to dismiss, even when she does not love him, a man who has all the natural and moral qualities she would desire, and only fails in the social. Would-be lovers are not so numerous, even with the best women, that the sacrifice of one can be felt as other than a good thing wasted, in a world where there are few good things. (Ch. 11)
John: “Men who love women the very best always blunder and give more pain than those who love them less.” (Ch. 37)
Youth is foolish; and does a woman often let her reasoning in favour of the worthier stand in the way of her perverse desire for the less worthy at such times as these? (Ch. 40)
Ed. Jane Gatewood (Oxford World's Classics, 2000)
Genuine flashes of rhetorical fire were occasionally struck by that plain and simple man [the minister], who knew what straightforward conduct was, and who did not know the illimitable caprice of a woman’s mind. (I, Ch. 2)
History has revealed that a supernumerary lover or two is rarely considered a disadvantage by a woman, from queen to cottage girl. . . . (I, Ch. 13)
That curious guarded understanding, or inimical confederacy, which arises at moments between two men in love with the same woman, was present here. . . . (III, Ch. 6)
Ed. Sally Shuttleworth (Penguin, 2000)
Hardy: I venture to think that those who care to read the story now will be quite astonished at the scrupulous propriety observed therein on the relations of the sexes; for though there may be frivolous, and even grotesque touches on occasion, there is hardly a single caress in the book outside legal matrimony, or what was intended so to be. . . .
Some few readers, I trust . . . will be reminded by this imperfect story, in a manner not unprofitable to the growth of the social sympathies, of the pathos, misery, long-suffering, and divine tenderness which in real life frequently accompany the passion of such a woman as Viviette for a lover several years her junior. (Preface, 1895)
A true woman, she would assume the remotest possibility to be the most likely contingency, if the possibility had the recommendation of being tragical . . . . (Ch. 6)
Lady Constantine in being nearly ten years his senior, was an object even better calculated to nourish a youth’s first passion than a girl of his own age, superiority of experience and ripeness of emotion exercising the same peculiar fascination over him as over other young men in their first ventures in this kind. (Ch. 14)
Deeds in this connexion demand the particular kind of courage that such perfervid women are endowed with, the courage of their emotions, in which young men are often lamentably deficient. (Ch. 17)
She was abstracted, tearful,—regarding him with all the rapt mingling of religion, love, fervour, and hope which such women can feel at such times, and which men know nothing of. (Ch. 24)
Women the most delicate get used to strange moral situations. Eve probably regained her normal sweet composure about a week after the Fall. (Ch. 35)
To those who had eyes to understand as well as to see, the chastened pensiveness of her once handsome features revealed more promising material beneath than ever her youth had done. But Swithin was hopelessly her junior. Unhappily for her he had now just arrived at an age whose canon of faith it is that the silly period of woman’s life is her only period of beauty. (Ch. 41)
Sympathize with her as he might, . . . he loved her no longer. But why had she expected otherwise? “O woman,” might a prophet have said to her, “great is thy faith if thou believest a junior lover’s love will last five years!” (Ch. 41)
Ed. Dale Kramer and Pamela Dalziel (Oxford World's Classics, 2004)
That the man and woman were husband and wife . . . there could be little doubt. No other than such relationship would have accounted for the atmosphere of stale familiarity which the trio carried along with them like a numbus as they moved down the road. (Ch. 1)
Ed. Patricia Ingham (Penguin, 1998)
Hardy: In the present novel, as in one or two others of this series which involve the question of matrimonial divergence, the immortal puzzle—given the man and woman, how to find a basis for their sexual relation—is left where it stood. . . . [N]o thinking person supposes that on the . . . ground of how to afford the greatest happiness to the units of human society during their brief transit through this sorry world, there is no more to be said on this covenant [marriage]; and it is certainly not supposed by the writer of these pages. (Preface, 1895)
It had sometimes dimly occurred to him, in his ruminating silences at Little Hintock, that external phenomena—such as the lowness or height or color of a hat, the fold of a coat, the make of a boot, or the chance attitude or occupation of a limb at the instant of view—may have a great influence upon feminine opinion of a man’s worth, so frequently founded on non-essentials. . . . (I, Ch. 5)
[T]here can be hardly anything less connected with a woman's personality than drapery which she has neither designed, manufactured, cut, sewed, nor even seen, except by a glance of approval when told that such and such a shape and colour must be had because it has been decided by others as imperative at that particular time. (I, Ch. 5)
[She] looked at him with intensified interest this morning, in the mood which is altogether peculiar to woman’s nature, and which, when reduced into plain words, seems as impossible as the penetrability of matter—that of entertaining a tender pity for the object of her own unnecessary coldness. (I, Ch. 11)
Mr. Melbury: “I've noticed . . . that a woman takes her colour from the man she's walking with. The woman who looks an unquestionable lady when she's with a polished-up fellow, looks a tawdry imitation article when she's hobbing and nobbing with a homely blade.” (I, Ch. 12)
If it be true, as women themselves have declared, that one of their sex is never so much inclined to throw in her lot with a man for good and all as five minutes after she has told him such a thing cannot be, the probabilities are that something might have been done by the appearance of Winterborne . . . beside Grace. (I, Ch. 13)
He knew that a woman once given to a man for life took, as a rule, her lot as it came, and made the best of it, without external interference; but for the first time he asked himself why this so generally should be done. (II, Ch. 14)
Ed. Juliet Grindle and Simon Gatrell (Oxford World's Classics, 2005)
Tess to Alec: “Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?” (Ch. 12)
Tess to her mother: “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t your warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’ learning in that way, and you did not help me!” (Ch. 12)
A field-man is a personality afield; a field-woman is a portion of the field; she has somehow lost her own margin, imbibed the essence of her surrounding, and assimilated herself with it. (Ch. 14)
If she could have been but just created, to discover herself as a spouseless mother, with no experience of life except as the parent of a nameless child, would the position have caused her to despair? No, she would have taken it calmly, and found pleasures therein. (Ch. 14)
But for the world’s opinion [Tess’s] experiences would have been simply a liberal education. (Ch. 15)
[W]omen whose chief companions are the forms and forces of outdoor Nature retain in their souls far more of the Pagan fantasy of their remote forefathers than of the systematized religion taught their race at later date. (Ch. 16)
Let the truth be told—women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye. While there’s life there’s hope is a conviction not so entirely unknown to the “betrayed” as some amiable theorists would have us believe. (Ch. 16)
There was no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare, perhaps all the more passionately from knowing that the others had also lost their hearts to him. There is contagion in this sentiment, especially among women. (Ch. 23)
The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them by cruel Nature’s law—an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired. . . . The differences which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this passion, and each was but portion of one organism called sex. (Ch. 23)
This belief was confirmed by [Angel’s] experience of women, which, having latterly been extended from the cultivated middle-class into the rural community, had taught him how much less was the intrinsic difference between the good and wise woman of one social stratum and the good and wise woman of another social stratum, than between the good and bad, the wise and the foolish, of the same stratum or class. (Ch. 26)
[Angel’s] experience of women was great enough for him to be aware that the negative often meant nothing more than the preface to the affirmative. . . . (Ch. 28)
What woman . . . among the most faithful adherents of the truth, believes the promises and threats of the Word in the sense in which she believes in her own children, or would not throw her theology to the wind if weighed against their happiness? (Ch. 53)
Ed. Patricia Ingham (Oxford World's Classics, 2002)
Hardy: For a novel addressed by a man to men and women of full age; which attempts to deal unaffectedly with the fret and fever, derision and disaster, that may press in the wake of the strongest passion known to humanity; to tell, without a mincing of words, of a deadly war waged between flesh and spirit; and to point the tragedy of unfulfilled aims, I am not aware that there is anything in the handling to which exception can be taken. (Preface, 1895)
She saw that he had singled her out . . . as a woman is singled out in such cases, for no reasoned purpose of further acquaintance, but in commonplace obedience to conjunctive orders from headquarters, unconsciously received by unfortunate men when the last intention of their lives is to be occupied with the feminine. (I, Ch. 6)
In short, as if materially, a compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power seized hold of him, something which had nothing in common with the spirits and influences that had moved him hitherto. This seemed to care little for his reason and his will, nothing for his so-called elevated intentions, and moved him along, as a violent schoolmaster a schoolboy he has seized by the collar, in a direction which tended towards the embrace of a woman for whom he had no respect and whose life had nothing in common with his own except locality. (I., Ch. 7)
And so, standing before the aforesaid officiator, the two swore that at every other time of their lives till death took them, they would assuredly believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks. What was as remarkable as the undertaking itself was the fact that nobody seemed at all surprised at what they swore.” (I, Ch. 9)
A new-made wife can usually manage to excite interest for a few weeks, even though the prospects of the household ways and means are cloudy. There is a certain piquancy about her situation, and her manner to her acquaintance at the sense of it, which carries off the gloom of facts, and renders even the humblest bride independent awhile of the real. (I, Ch. 9)
Anny to Arabella: “He’ll shake down, bless ’ee—men always do. What can ‘em do otherwise? Married is married.” (I, Ch. 9)
There seemed to him, vaguely and dimly, something wrong in a social ritual which made necessary a cancelling of well-formed schemes involving years of thought and labour, of forgoing a man’s one opportunity of showing himself superior to the lower animals, and of contributing his units of work to the general progress of his generation, because of a momentary surprise by a new and transitory instinct which had nothing in it of the nature of vice, and could be only at the most called weakness. He was inclined to inquire what he had done, or she lost, for that matter, that he deserved to be caught in a gin which would cripple him, if not her also, for the rest of a lifetime? (I, Ch. 9)
Their lives were ruined, he thought; ruined by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union: that of having based a permanent contract on a temporary feeling which had no necessary connection with affinities that alone render a life-long comradeship tolerable. (I, Ch. 11)
If he had been a woman he must have screamed under the nervous tension which he was now undergoing. But that relief being denied to his virility, he clenched his teeth in misery, bringing lines about this mouth like those in the Laocoon, and corrugations between his brows. (II, Ch. 7)
Half-an-hour later [the women] all lay in their cubicles, their tender feminine faces upturned to the flaring gas-jets which at intervals stretched down the long dormitories, every face bearing the legend The Weaker upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are. They formed a pretty, suggestive, pathetic sight, of whose pathos and beauty they were themselves unconscious, and would not discover till, amid the storms and strains of after-years, with their injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement, their minds would revert to this experience as to something which had been allowed to slip past them insufficiently regarded. (III, Ch. 3)
Sue to Jude: “My life has been entirely shaped by what people call a peculiarity in me. I have no fear of men, as such, nor of their books. I have mixed with them—one or two of them particularly—almost as one of their own sex. I mean I have not felt about them as most women are taught to feel—to be on their guard against attacks on their virtue; for no average man—no man short of a sensual savage—will molest a woman by day or night, at home or abroad, unless she invites him.” (III, Ch. 4)
Jude felt much depressed: she seemed to get further and further away from him with her strange ways and curious unconsciousness of gender. . . . He felt that she was treating him cruelly, though he could not quite say in what way. Her very helplessness seemed to make her so much stronger than he. (III, Ch. 4)
If he could only get over the sense of her sex, as she seemed to be able to do so easily of his, what a comrade she would make. . . . (III, Ch. 4)
He tried to take her hand, but she withdrew it. Their old relations of confidence seemed suddenly to have ended, and the antagonisms of sex to sex were left without any counterpoising predilections. (III, Ch. 6)
[H]is heart would have ached less had she appeared anyhow but as she did appear; essentially large-minded and generous on reflection, despite a previous exercise of those narrow womanly humours on impulse that were necessary to give her sex. (III, Ch. 6)
Sue to Jude: “As to our going on together as we were going, in a sort of friendly way, the people round us would have made it unable to continue. Their views of the relations of man and woman are limited . . . Their philosophy only recognizes relations based on animal desire. The wide field of strong attachment where desire plays, at least, only a secondary part, is ignored by them. . . . ” (III, Ch. 6)
How could Sue have had the temerity to ask him to do it [give her away in marriage]—a cruelty possibly to herself as well as to him? Women were different from men in such matters. Was it that they were, instead of more sensitive, as reputed, more callous, and less romantic; or were they more heroic? (III, Ch. 7)
Perhaps Sue was thus venturesome with men because she was childishly ignorant of that side of their natures which wore out women’s hearts and lives. (III, Ch. 7)
“No, you are not Mrs. Phillotson,” murmured Jude. “You are dear, free Sue Bridehead, only you don’t know it. Wifedom has not yet assimilated and digested you in its vast maw as an atom which has no further individuality.” (III, Ch. 9)
Sue to Jude: “Some women’s love of being loved is insatiable; and so, often, is their love of loving; and in the last case they may find that they can’t give it continuously to the chamber-officer appointed by the bishop’s licence to receive it.” (IV, Ch. 1)
Sue to Jude: “What tortures me so much is the necessity of being responsive to this man whenever he wishes, good as he is morally! – the dreadful contract to feel in a particular way in a matter whose essence is its voluntariness!” (IV, Ch. 2)
Strange that his first aspiration towards academical proficiency had been checked by a woman, and that his second aspiration—towards apostleship—had also been checked by a woman. “Is it,” he said, “that the women are to blame; or is it the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress?” (IV, Ch. 3)
Sue to Phillotson: “Domestic laws should be made according to temperaments, which should be classified. If people are at all peculiar in character they have to suffer from the very rules that produce comfort in others! . . . For a man and woman to live on intimate terms when one feels as I do is adultery, in any circumstances, however legal. . . . It is as culpable to bind yourself to love always as to believe a creed always, and as silly as to vow always to like a particular food or drink!” (IV, Ch. 3)
Phillotson to Gillingham: “I had not the remotest idea . . . that merely taking a woman to church and putting a ring upon her finger could by any possibility involve one in such a daily, continuous tragedy as that now shared by her and me!” (IV, Ch. 4)
Gillingham to Phillotson: “But if people did as you want to do, there’d be a general domestic disintegration. The family would no longer be the social unit.”. . . “I don’t see why the woman and the children should not be the unit without the man.”. . . “By the Lord Harry!—Matriarchy! . . . It will upset all received opinion hereabout.” (IV, Ch. 4)
Sue to Jude: “I may hold the opinion that, in a proper state of society, the father of a woman’s child will be as much a private matter of hers as the cut of her underlinen, on whom nobody will have any right to question her.” (IV, Ch. 5)
Sue to Jude: “I think I would much rather go on living always as lovers, as we are living now, and only meeting by day. It is so much sweeter—for the woman at least, and when she is sure of the man. . . . I think I should begin to be afraid of you, Jude, the moment you had contracted to cherish me under a Government stamp and I was licensed to be loved on the premises by you—Ugh, how horrible and sordid!” (V, Ch. 1)
Sue to Jude: “I am not so exceptional a woman as you think. Fewer women like marriage than you suppose, only they enter into it for the dignity it is assumed to confer, and the social advantages it gains them sometimes—a dignity and an advantage that I am quite willing to do without.” (V, Ch. 1)
Arabella to Sue: “Life with a man is more business-like after [marriage], and money matters work better. And then, . . . if you have rows, and he turns you out of doors, you can get the law to protect you, which you can’t otherwise, unless he half runs you through with a knife, or cracks your noddle with a poker. And if he bolts away from you—I say it friendly, as woman to woman, for there’s never any knowing what a man med do—you’ll have the sticks o’ furniture, and won’t be looked upon as a thief.” (V, Ch. 2)
Sue to Jude: “What Arabella had been saying to me has made me feel more than ever how hopelessly vulgar an institution legal marriage is – a sort of trap to catch a man—I can’t bear to think of it.” (V, Ch. 3)
Sue to Jude: “Don’t you dread the attitude that insensibly arises out of legal obligation? Don’t you think it is destructive to a passion whose essence is its gratuitousness?” (V, Ch. 3)
Jude to Sue: “The beggarly question of parentage—what is it, after all? What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care. That excessive regard of parents for their own children, and their dislike of other people’s, is, like class-feeling, patriotism, save-your-own-soul-ism and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom.” (V, Ch. 3)
Jude to Sue: “[Marriage] is no worse for the woman than for the man. That’s what some women fail to see, and instead of protesting against the conditions they protest against the man, the other victim; just as a woman in a crowd will abuse the man who crushes against her, when he is only the helpless transmitter of the pressure put upon him.” (V, Ch. 4)
And they [Arabella and her husband] left the tent together, this pot-bellied man and florid woman, in the antipathetic, recriminatory mood of the average husband and wife of Christendom. (V, Ch. 5)
Arabella to Phillotson: “She’d have come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! it’s all the same in the end . . . . I should have kept her chained on—her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough! There’s nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf task-master for taming us women. Besides, you’ve got the laws on your side. Moses knew. Don’t you call to mind what he says? . . . . ‘Then shall the man be guiltless, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.’ Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi’ it!” (V, Ch. 8)
Jude to Sue: “What I can’t understand in you is your extraordinary blindness now to your old logic. Is it peculiar to you, or is it common to Woman? Is a woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer?” (VI, Ch. 3)
Jude to Sue: “I did suffer, God knows, . . . and now I suffer again. But perhaps not so much as you. The woman mostly gets the worst of it in the long run!” (VI, Ch. 3)
Mrs. Edlin to Phillotson: “I don’t know what the times be coming to! Matrimony have growed to be that serious in these days that one really do feel afeard to move in it at all. In my time we took it more careless; and I don’t know that we was any the worse for it.” (VI, Ch. 5)
The landlord of the lodging . . . had doubted if they were married at all, especially as he had seen Arabella kiss Jude one evening when she had taken a little cordial; and he was about to give them notice to quit, till by chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms, and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of genuine wedlock; and concluding that they must be respectable, said no more. (VI, Ch. 8)
Mrs. Edlin: “Weddings be funerals ‘a believe nowadays. Fifty-five years ago, come Fall, since my man and I married! Times have changed since then!” (VI, Ch. 9)
Jude to Mrs. Edlin: “Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance, which enlarge the views of most men, narrow the views of women almost invariably. . . . As for Sue and me when we were at our own best, long ago—when our minds were clear, and our love of truth fearless—the time was not ripe for us! Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us.” (VI, Ch. 10)
Hardy: I have been charged since 1895 with a large responsibility in this country for the present 'shop-soiled' condition of the marriage theme. . . . My opinion at that time, if I remember rightly, was what it is now, that a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties—being then essentially and morally no marriage. . . .
As for the matrimonial scenes, in spite of their “touching the spot,” and the screaming of a poor lady in Blackwood that there was an unholy anti-marriage league afoot, the famous contract—sacrament I mean—is doing fairly well still, and people marry and give in what may or may not be true marriage as light-heartedly as ever. The author has even been reproached by some earnest correspondents that he has left the question where he found it, and has not pointed the way to a much-needed reform. . . .
After the issue of Jude the Obscure as a serial story in Germany, an experienced reviewer of that country informed the writer that Sue Bridehead, the heroine, was the first delineation in fiction of the woman who was coming into notice in her thousands every year—the woman of the feminist movement—the slight, pale “bachelor” girl—the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions were producing, mainly in cities as yet; who do not recognize the necessity for most of her sex to follow marriage as a profession, and boast themselves as superior people because they are licensed to be loved on the premises. The regret of this critic was that the portrait of the newcomer had been left to be drawn by a man, and was not done by one of her own sex, who would never have allowed her to break down at the end. (Postscript, 1912)
Ed. Tom Hetherington (Oxford World's Classics, 1998)
She was, in truth, what is called a “nice” girl, attractive, certainly, but above all things nice—one of the class with whom the risks of matrimony approximate most nearly to zero. (I, Ch. 2)
Somers to Pierston: “Some woman, whose Well-Beloved flits about as yours does now, will catch your eye, and you'll stick to her like a limpet, while she follows her Phantom and leaves you to ache as you will.” (I, Ch. 9)
This seeking of the Well-Beloved was, then, of the nature of a knife which could cut two ways. To be the seeker was one thing: to be one of the corpses from which the ideal inhabitant had departed was another. . . . (II, Ch. 8)
Pierston . . . mus[ed] on many things, not the least being the perception that to wed a woman may be by no means the same thing as to be united with her. (III, Ch. 5)
From The Short Stories of Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1928)
Hardy: The ending of this story with the marriage of Lizzy and the minister was almost de rigueur in an English magazine at the time of writing. But at this late date, thirty years later, it may not be amiss to give the ending that would have been preferred by the writer to the convention used above. . . . Lizzy did not, in fact, marry the minister, but—much to her credit in the author’s opinion—stuck to Jim the smuggler, and emigrated with him after their marriage, an expatrial step rather forced upon him by his adventurous antecedents. They both died in Wisconsin between 1850 and 1860. (“Note,” May 1912, p. 247)
Indeed, the necessity of getting life-leased at all cost, a cardinal virtue which all good mothers teach, kept her from thinking of it [his occupation of gunmaker] at all till she had closed with William, had passed the honeymoon, and reached the reflecting stage. Then, like a person who has stumbled upon some object in the dark, she wondered what she had got; mentally walked round it, estimated it; whether it were rare or common; contained gold, silver, or lead; were a clog or a pedestal, everything to her or nothing. (p. 256)
In the natural way of passion under the too practical conditions which civilization has devised for its fruition, her husband’s love for her had not survived, except in the form of fitful friendship, any more than, or even so much as, her own for him. . . . (p. 263)
Indeed, some would have called him a man not altogether typical of the middle-class male of a century wherein sordid ambition is the master-passion that seems to be taking the time-honoured place of love. (p. 352)
[T]hey gazed at each other with smiles, and with that unmistakable expression which means so little at the moment, yet so often leads up to passion, heart-ache, union, disunion, devotion, overpopulation, drudgery, content, resignation, despair. (p. 355)
Influenced by the belief of the British parent that a bad marriage with its aversions is better than free womanhood with its interests, dignity, and leisure, she had consented to marry the elderly wine-merchant as a pis aller, . . . to find afterwards that she had made a mistake. (p. 365)
Reynard had grown to be truly in love with Betty in his mild, placid, durable way—in that way which perhaps, upon the whole, tends most generally to the woman’s comfort under the institution of marriage, if not particularly to her ecstasy. (pp. 530-31)
[T]here is no more indiscreet mood than that of a woman surprised into talk who has long been imposing upon herself a policy of reserve. (p. 553)
Mr. Bealand, the rector: “The tragedy of marriage . . . is full of crises and catastrophes, and ends with the death of one of the actors.” (p 745)
Such a person, such a night, and such a place were unexceptionable materials for a scene in that poetical drama of two which the world has often beheld; which leads up to a contract that causes a slight sinking in the poetry, and a perceptible lack of interest in the play. (p.188)
On his own side it was the usual lowering of the fire—the slackening of a man’s passion for a woman when she becomes his property. (p. 191)
Rosalys had readily imbibed his ideas of their mutual independence; and now, after the lapse of all these years, had acted upon them with the surprising literalness of her sex when they act upon advice at all. (p. 198)
[C]hivalrous feelings towards women, originating perhaps in the fact that he knew very little about them, were sufficient to gratify the most exacting of the sex. (p. 199)
From Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, ed. James Gibson (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001)
Thanks to Bill Morgan for these selections.
“The Coquette, and After” (Gibson 103)
Of sinners two
At last one pays the penalty—
The woman—women always do!
“The Ruined Maid” (Gibson 128)
—‘I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!’—
‘My dear—a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,’ said she.
“A Sunday Morning Tragedy” (Gibson 155)
O women! Scourged the worst are we. . . .
“The Curate's Kindness” (Gibson 159)
. . . To get freed of her there was the one thing
Had made the change welcome to me.
To go there was ending but badly;
’Twas shame and ’twas pain;
‘But anyhow,’ thought I, ‘thereby I shall gladly
Get free of this forty years’ chain.’
I thought they'd be strangers aroun’ me,
But she’s to be there!
Let me jump out o’ waggon and go back and drown me
At Pummery or Ten-Hatches Weir.
“The Dawn After the Dance” (Gibson 182)
That which makes man’s love the lighter and the woman’s burn no brighter
Came to pass with us inevitably while slipped the shortening year. . . .
And there stands your father's dwelling with its blind bleak windows telling
That the vows of man and maid are frail as filmy gossamere.
“The Inquiry” (Gibson 198)
And Time, that dooms man’s love to die,
Preserves a maid’s alive.
“She Charged Me” (Gibson 303)
A kiss might have closed it. But I knew
From the fall of each word, and the pause between,
That the curtain would drop upon us two
Ere long, in our play of slave and queen.
“A Poet” (Gibson 336)
‘Whatever his message—glad or grim—
Two bright-souled women clave to him;’
Stand and say that while day decays;
It will be word enough of praise.
“An Ancient to Ancients” (Gibson 660)
Where once we rowed, where once we sailed,
And damsels took the tiller, veiled
Against too strong a stare (God wot
Their fancy, then or anywhen!)
Upon that shore we are clean forgot,
“A Practical Woman” (Gibson 867)
She went away. She disappeared,
Years, years. Then back she came:
In her hand was a blooming boy
Mentally and in frame.
‘I found a father at last who'd suit
The purpose in my head,
And used him till he'd done his job,’
Was all thereon she said.
From The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982)
Volume 1, p. 33
To Katharine S. MacQuoid, November 17, 1874
The question whether women of ordinary types should or should not be depicted as the heroines of novels is such a nice one that it is difficult to discuss it in writing. I myself, I must confess, have no great liking for the perfect woman of fiction, but this may be for purely artistic reasons.
As regards the woman of real life, the whole gist of the matter lies in what you summarize in the words “true & simple”. The majority—or at any rate a respectable minority—of women are quite worthy enough in nature to satisfy any reasonable being, but I venture to think that they too frequently do not exhibit that nature truly & simply—& thus the nature is condemned by their critics when the form of its manifestation only is in fault.
Volume 2, p. 115
To Agnes Grove, April 14, 1896
I return the article that you may decide how to proceed with it . . . .
I think the whole of the writing shows a sustained power of reasoning not usual in women’s arguments.
Volume 2, p. 122
To Florence Henniker, June 1, 1896
By the way, I have been offended with you for some time . . . for what you said—that I was an advocate for “free love”. I hold no theory whatever on the subject, except by way of experimental remarks at tea parties, & seriously I don’t see any possible scheme for the union of the sexes that wd be satisfactory.
Volume 2, p. 200
To Edmund Gosse, August.9, 1898
I feel certain that F. [Fielding] never knew thoroughly the seduced rustic girl; or that, if he did, the “aristocratic temper” you mention & the prejudices of his time, absolutely blinded him to her true character.
It is curious that such a woman of the people as George Eliot shd have carried on the prejudice to some extent in her treatment of Hetty, whom she wd not have us regard as possessing equal rights with Donnithorne.
Volume 2, p. 264
To Earl Hodgson, July 17, 1900
It is much that you should think it worth while to remember my remark that as our Constitution has worked so much better under queens than kings the Crown should by rights descend from woman to woman.
Vol. 3, p. 112
To Henry Newbolt, March 13, 1904
I have, indeed, had some odd experiences of criticism in respect of this book [The Dynasts]. For one thing, I find that my reviewers have largely been women, especially in America. Surely Editors ought to know that such a subject could hardly be expected to appeal to women.
Vol. 3, p. 238
To Millicent Fawcett, Nov. 30, 1906
I have for a long time been in favour of woman-suffrage. . . . I am in favour of it because I think the tendency of the woman’s vote will be to break up the present pernicious conventions in respect of manners, customs, religion, illegitimacy, the stereotyped household (that it must be the unit of society), the father of a woman’s child (that it is anybody’s business but the woman’s own, except in cases of disease or insanity), sport (that so-called educated men should be encouraged to harass & kill for pleasure feeble creatures by mean stratagems), slaughter-houses (that they should be dark dens of cruelty), & other matters. . . .
I do not mean that I think all women, or even a majority, will actively press some or any of the first mentioned of such points, but that their being able to assert themselves will loosen the tongues of men who have not liked to speak out on such subjects while women have been their helpless dependents.
Life being a physiological fact, its honest portrayal must be largely concerned with . . . the relations of the sexes, and the substitution for such catastrophes as favour the false colouring best expressed by the regulation finish that “they married and were happy ever after,” of catastrophes based upon sexual relationship as it is. To this expansion English society opposes a well-nigh insuperable bar.
A girl should certainly not be allowed to enter into matrimony without a full knowledge of her probable future in that holy estate, and of the possibilities which may lie in the past of the elect man.
I have not much faith in an innocent girl’s “discovery of the great mysteries of life” by means of “the ordinary intercourse of society.” Incomplete presentations, vicious presentations, meretricious and seductive presentations, are not unlikely in pursuing such investigations through such a channel. . . . .
[A] plain handbook on natural processes, specially prepared, should be placed in the daughter’s hands. . . . Innocent youths should, I think, also receive the same instruction; for . . . it has never struck me that the spider is invariably male and the fly invariably female. . . .
[C]ivilisation . . . , while it has been able to cover itself with glory in the arts, in literatures, in religions, and in the sciences, it has never succeeded in creating that homely thing, a satisfactory scheme for the conjunction of the sexes.”
Hardy was told a story . . . of a girl . . . who had been betrayed and deserted by a lover. She kept her child by her own exertions, and lived bravely and throve. After a time the man returned poorer than she, and wanted to marry her; but she refused. . . . The young woman’s conduct in not caring to be ‘made respectable’ won [Hardy’s] admiration. . . .
The eminently modern idea embodied in this example – of a woman’s not becoming necessarily the chattel and slave of her seducer – impressed Hardy as being one of the first glimmers of woman’s enfranchisement; and he made use of it in succeeding years in more than one case in his fiction and verse.
From R. G. Cox, ed. Thomas Hardy: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970)
Survey, New Quarterly Magazine 1879
[I]f the simplicity of [Hardy’s] point of view is generally synonymous with breadth, in this particular aspect [his estimate of the nature of women] it at least approaches narrowness. We might dismiss it by saying that his women are invariably men’s women – a term which all female readers would understand; but the men’s women of ordinary novels fill a secondary place, whereas Mr. Hardy’s female characters are never secondary. His story is always the story of one woman in her relations to two or three men; and it is part of this scheme that, though the men do not lack individuality, they are chiefly introduced with reference to the women, and only fully developed at the points of contact with them. No writer has painted love more delicately than Mr. Hardy, or with more conviction of its being in its due season the grand business of life; but none has painted it as on the man’s side more entirely distinct from esteem; and his idea of women is that of a pagan grace which does not require and often excludes the estimable. Though the vanity of his heroines is ever present and insatiable, they have none of the meanness which is imputed to feminine vanity by most male and by all female writers who take an exaggerated view of it. Their most universal desire for admiration will coexist with an honest passion for a particular man, and their utmost passion is never dissociated from a nymph-like and perfectly spontaneous purity. On the other hand, he represents the genuine, and, as such, successful woman, as necessarily weak, silly in spite of intelligence and knowledge, petulant, without conscience, and more easily led by force than kindness. (62-63)
His women develop from the moral and the aesthetic side, but they never become thoroughly responsible creatures. There is doubtless something dramatic in the complete contrast which deprives one sex of all the mental qualities of the other. . . . [T]hose who believe, with the present writer, that the old antithesis of ‘manly’ and ‘womanly’ covers an essential natural truth, will not quarrel with Mr. Hardy for the exaggeration which is in the main a tribute to it. But he would have served its cause better by raising his idea of sexual difference, and hence of sexual magnetism, into a higher key. (63)
Julian Hawthorne, Review of The Trumpet Major, Spectator 1880
Their [Hardy’s women characters’] conduct is indefensible, but it is charming—we love them the better for their tender naughtiness. We are appalled to see what harm these gentle, compassionate, sweet-tempered creatures can do; to remark the naïve cruelty and hardness that underlie it all; but we are fain to confess that it is nature, and incorrigible—we must even admit that humanity would be dry and frigid without it. For the selfishness is always passionate, never calculating. (76)
Survey, British Quarterly Review 1881
[W]ith one exception, all Mr. Hardy’s women have a family likeness. They are all charming; they are all flirts from their cradle; they are all in love with more than one man at once; they seldom, if they marry at all, marry the right man; and while well conducted for the most part, are somewhat lacking in moral sense, and have only rudimentary souls. Undines of the earth, the thought of death scarce occurs in connection with them. . . . (86)
Havelock Ellis, “Thomas Hardy’s Novels,” Westminster Review 1883
[I]t is . . . easy to be content with the type of womanhood which Mr. Hardy gives us in all its delicate variations. So great, however, is the general resemblance among the fresh and piquant figures in this gallery of fair women, that there is scarcely a dominant quality in one of them which is not shared by the whole group. . . . What we notice about them first, perhaps, is the mingling of simplicity and piquancy. It is true that simplicity, in the sense of direct candour . . . lies nowhere in them. . . . [W]hat we see here, rather, are young healthy creatures, chiefly instinct-led, in their reaction with circumstance, circumstance mostly against them, but which they are rarely wishful, very rarely able, to break through. So interesting are they thus, that they scarcely need the bright natural vivacity which never fails them. They are fascinating to us at once, and irresistibly, because they are so simple by nature, so involved by circumstance. What we see in them, then, is the individual and egoistic instincts in a reaction with circumstances which is only faintly coloured by an elementary altruistic consciousness. Morals, observe, do not come in. . . . Mr. Hardy’s heroines are characterized by a yielding to circumstance that is limited by the play of instinct. They are never quite bad. It seems, indeed, that this quality in them, which shuts them out from any high level of goodness, is precisely that which saves them from ever being very bad. They have an instinctive self-respect, an instinctive purity. When they err, it is by caprice, by imagination. . . . One feels compelled to insist on the instinctiveness of these women. There is, in truth, something elemental, something demonic about them. We see at once that they have no souls. (106)
Woman, in Mr. Hardy’s world, is far from being ‘the conscience of man’; it is with the men always that the moral strength lies. . . . The women may be clever, practical, full of tact; they are always irresistible fascinating; but veracity, simplicity, rectitude are with the men. (111)
[L]ooking at [Hardy’s works] as a whole, what one observes about them first is that they are all love-stories. There is something very fresh and delightful, turning from the writers with whom love is only interesting from the moral problems it may involve, or is at most the history of a passion, to find a writer of such distinct genius who has little or nothing to say about either morals or passion, and yet thinks love is the chief business of life, and can devote himself so frankly to the rendering of its devious ways. (125)
Mr. Hardy’s way of regarding women is peculiar and difficult to define, not because it is not a perfectly defensible way, but because it is in a great degree new. It is . . . far removed from a method, adopted by many distinguished novelists, in which women are considered as moral forces, centripetal tendencies providentially adapted to balance the centrifugal tendencies of men; being, indeed, almost the polar opposite to that view. . . . Mr. Hardy’s women are creatures, always fascinating, made up of more or less untamed instincts for both love and admiration, who can never help some degree of response when the satisfaction of those instincts lies open to them. . . . The charm of woman for Mr. Hardy is chiefly physical, but it is a charm which can only be interpreted by a subtle observation. (126)
Havelock Ellis, “Concerning Jude the Obscure,” Savoy Magazine 1896
The real and permanent interest in Mr. Hardy’s books is not his claim to be the exponent of Wessex—a claim which has been more than abundantly recognized—but his intense preoccupation with the mysteries of women’s hearts. (303)
For Hardy, . . . the problems of women’s hearts are mostly independent of the routine codes of men. (304)
The type of womankind that Mr. Hardy chiefly loves to study, from Cytherea to Sue, has always been the same, very human, also very feminine, rarely with any marked element of virility, and so contrasting curiously with the androgynous heroines loved of Mr. Meredith. (306)
W.L. Phelps, from Essay on Modern Novelists 1910
Mr. Hardy’s women are full of tenderness and full of caprice; and whatever feminine readers may think of them, they are usually irresistible to the masculine mind. It has been said, indeed, that he is primarily a man’s novelist, as Mrs. Ward is perhaps a woman’s; he does not represent his women as marvels of intellectual splendour, or in queenly domination over the society in which they move. They are more apt to be the victims of their own affectionate hearts. . . . Mr. Hardy’s heroines change their minds oftener than they change their clothes; but in whatever material or mental presentment, they never lack attraction. And they all resemble their maker in one respect; at heart every one of them is a Pagan. They vary greatly in constancy and in general strength of character; but it is human passion, and not religion, that is the mainspring of their lives. (402)