A Male Feminist: Hardy's Portrayal of When Rosemarie Morgan Claims, "Hardy's Women ... Must Have Confused Many Readers Caught with Mixed Feelings of Admiration and Alarm, " (Morgan, Women and Sexuality in the Novels of

Topics: Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Hardy's Wessex Pages: 7 (2708 words) Published: January 12, 2008
When Rosemarie Morgan claims, "Hardy's women ... must have confused many readers caught with mixed feelings of admiration and alarm," (Morgan, Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy xiii) she brings forward a duality of reaction which reflects Hardyan heroines' characters. The confusion she refers to can be understood within the novels' historical contexts, as these female protagonists were most likely to have been quite unusual at the time of their creation. Concomitantly, today's readers are likely to be perplexed while reading Thomas Hardy's novels, as his presentation of women seems to stand out from his contemporaries with his attempts at breaking down the stereotypical characters presented in his day. Hardy's women have their faults as well as their qualities and thus they become more complete and real. This complexity makes them more human; they are not representations of the ideal Victorian housewife who is characterised by her perfection at all times. They are not only confronted with their own problems and have to make reasoned decisions, but can be just as composed and feeble as their male counterparts. As Rosemarie Morgan's comment suggests these Hardyan women provoked varied emotions, through their trials and tribulations, and my aim is to explore in what way Hardy presents his female protagonists to entice such a varied palette of reactions. Far From the Madding Crowd's Bathsheba and Jude the Obscure's Sue have often been compared through their radical views on marriage. These two novels represent benchmarks in Thomas Hardy's career, and although his views may be offered in a different way, they do not seem to have changed from the earlier novel to the latter. Bathsheba may be rather more voluptuous and vain than Sue, nevertheless their preoccupations are similar and they appear to make the same errors in judgement. Both protagonists, as Rosemarie Morgan suggests, are "Humanly imperfect," (Morgan, Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy 155) yet it is through their struggles that we seem to relate to them. Bathsheba is first introduced as a beautiful, albeit vain young woman. We see her through a man's eyes and are thus immediately confronted with an imposed view. Oak judges Bathsheba as vain, and this trait of character will haunt her in her choices throughout the novel. By giving a man's opinion of the female protagonist Hardy lays his groundwork for what is in effect a Bildungsroman with Bathsheba as the heroine. Effectively the book opens with the same characters as it closes, yet, compared to the ever so constant Oak, Bathsheba has radically changed from her initial self. The young girl who helps her aunt out on the farm and whose first interactions with Gabriel Oak are rather daring, show her capable of holding playful banter as well as having rather resolute ideas. The reader can rapidly relate to the innocence of her inexperience and may be intrigued by her feistiness, when she abruptly answers, "I don't want to marry you!" (79) to Oak's genuinely serious demand. Nevertheless, as with every educational novel, the main character evolves with the events that take place. When Bathsheba inherits her uncle's farm she swiftly has to take on new responsibilities. Her strong will and stubbornness allow Hardy to fully explore her independence with the sudden rise in status because of an unfortunate happenstance. She is a young woman ahead of her time and Hardy wastes no time in illustrating her capabilities, especially when she decides to take on the role of bailiff after having fired Pennyways for stealing. The new position Bathsheba affords makes her vulnerable to a whole array of unrequited problems. Her ingenuousness and teasing nature get the better of her and create yet another delicate situation with a second suitor, Farmer Boldwood. His analogous inexperience in matters of the heart makes him vulnerable to Bathsheba's charms, although we feel torn between both characters' actions....
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