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Authority and Displacement: Thomas Hardy and the Aesthetics of Modernity

Abstract : Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (1895) is about displacement. First, it deals with geographical displacement as the eponymous protagonist wanders through the South West of England, from village to city, in Hardy’s Wessex. This endless displacement in space both illustrates and triggers the dislocation of the protagonist’s identity: who is Jude after all? Where does he come from? Where is he going to? As Jude’s dreams are incessantly thwarted and his course repeatedly diverted, tragedy becomes his destiny, dispossessing him of his own will. Meaning gets blurred, too, under the influence of other texts that interfere with the narrative voice. Among these the Bible holds pride of place, making Jude a Job-like character. The uncertain, wavering identity of the main character in Jude the Obscure foreshadows the questioning of the figure of the author: Hardy was a nineteenth century novelist with such works as Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Far from the Madding Crowd, but a twentieth century poet as the Collected Poems well show. An aesthetic displacement is therefore perceptible, from one period–that of the Victorian novel–to another–that of modern fiction; from the convention of the happy ending to the more subversive rewriting of tragedy; from one genre–fiction–to another–poetry. Moreover, by silencing his main representative–the narrator–as well as his creature–the protagonist–at the end of Jude the Obscure, Hardy the author seems to challenge his own authority, thus raising the question of authority and authorship. The figure of the author falters, all the more so as the simple and discreet existence Hardy led stood in sharp contrast to his protagonists’ scandalous lives: this could be just another figure of displacement, in the same way as the third person displaced and silenced the “I” that should have been used in the autobiography entitled The Life of Thomas Hardy.
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Stéphanie Bernard. Authority and Displacement: Thomas Hardy and the Aesthetics of Modernity. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Authority and Displacement in the English-Speaking World, Volume 1, 2015. ⟨hal-02359351⟩

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