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Women of Letters and the Irony of Life

Abstract : The article deals with two short stories by Thomas Hardy: “An Imaginative Woman” and “On the Western Circuit”. The first text introduces Ella, the disillusioned day-dreaming wife of a gun-maker. As a lover of poetry and amateur versifier herself, she is extremely moved on learning that the rooms her husband has rent for the family’s holiday are the lodgings of a young poet who resides there during the rest of the year. As she discovers verses inscribed by the poet himself on the wall just above her bed, her stirring reading experience takes on an undeniably erotic quality, bringing about the disturbing question of hysteria which gained interest and notoriety in the late nineteenth century. In the other short story, entitled “On the Western Circuit”, the exchange of letters becomes a means to woo and seduce. In both stories, the main woman’s masculinity is gradually underlined, while the man engaged in the exchange – the young poet in “An Imaginative Woman”, a young lawyer in the other text – is feminized. Nevertheless, the seemingly phallic women are ultimately confronted with their own failure and frailty, because they are subjected to the power of the letter and come to reflect what the letter dictates. They have to renounce the object of their love and desire. But in the process, it appears that their feminine voices have acquired a poetic dimension, being able to suggest and unveil much more than what the succession of letters on the page seemed to signify.
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https://hal-normandie-univ.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02097019
Contributor : Stéphanie Bernard <>
Submitted on : Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 5:08:06 PM
Last modification on : Friday, March 20, 2020 - 10:40:16 AM

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Stéphanie Bernard. Women of Letters and the Irony of Life. FATHOM - a French e-journal of Thomas Hardy Studies, revues.org, 2013, ⟨10.4000/fathom.137⟩. ⟨hal-02097019⟩

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