Darkest Wessex: Hardy and the Gothic Short Story
A Hardy Country Series Lecture by Dr Tracy Hayes
Tuesday 7th April 7.30pm, The Dorset History Centre
In a number of his short stories Thomas Hardy adopted the themes and signifiers of Gothic in order to explore social and psycho-sexual constructions of Victorian masculinity. He is generally recognized as an excellent delineator of the female, his intuitive understanding of the psychological complexities of women such as Tess Durbeyfield and Sue Bridehead being emphasized at the expense of his male characters who are often viewed as weak and two-dimensional. But what is less frequently recognized is that Hardy often also examines men, in light of their ambitions, sensitivities, hypocrisies and social expectations, giving voice to discursive categories of maleness often elided in the work of his contemporaries. The Gothic short story allows for specific incidents or character traits of an extreme nature to be related whilst still retaining reader credulity. A withered arm, a luridly disfigured statue and a demonic fiddle player are used as vehicles by Hardy through which the incredible or fantastic highlight instances of toxic masculinity and grotesque extremes of human nature in a concentrated space which leaves behind an indelible impression.
This talk will focus on three particular tales: in “The Withered Arm” (1888) Hardy represents an instance of esoteric masculinity in the person of Conjuror Trendle, who is not derided but indeed revered due to his lack of ostentation and his refusal to take monetary payment for his services. “Barbara of the House of Grebe” (1890) is undoubtedly Hardy's most Gothic short story, exploring the dark recesses of psycho-sexuality and how a sociopathic male causes a massive psychological schism in his wife. “The Fiddler of the Reels” (1893), arguably Hardy's most critically discussed short story, articulates a male form of “Othering” in which a man who is not provided with a single word of dialogue yet dominates the narrative, exploits music and dance as forms of physical and mental torture.
Dr Tracy Hayes is an independent scholar and Secretary of The Thomas Hardy Society. She received her PhD in 2017 for a thesis investigating masculinities in Hardy's novels. Her new research focuses on Gothic masculinity in the short stories of Poe, Hardy, and M.R. James
This event is free. For further information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
* As of 17/03/20 this event is now regrettably cancelled due to issues regarding Coronavirus.
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